OSWEGO, NY â€“ US Senator Charles Schumer today (Oct. 4) revealed that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has completed an audit conducted at his urging and will beef up security at nuclear power plants around the country.
Schumer brought up the subject of security back in March.
At that time, he said, â€œthere is a hole in the system, not the fault of the local plants but the fault of the federal government.”
He requested the audit after it was revealed that suspected Al-Qaeda member Sharif Mobley was allowed to work at nuclear facilities in New Jersey for six years before he moved to Yemen and was arrested for having ties with the terrorist group.
â€œWe have to think almost the unthinkable. A terrorist infiltration into one of these (nuclear) facilities would be devastating,â€ Schumer said Monday.
In the audit, the NRCâ€™s Office of Inspector General recommended (a) improving employee training so that workers can better identify potential terrorists; (b) allowing the NRC direct access to background check data bases, as opposed to relying on information provided by third parties; (c) increasing the frequency with which employees are re-screened; and (d) possibly requiring employees to declare their travel abroad.
Recommendations a, b and c are required by law to be acted on within 30 days.
The final recommendation was left to the discretion of the NRC.
â€œFor our part, the NRC security staff had already begun work on issues we recognized needed enhancing even before the Office of Inspector General started its review. We expect other enhancements will be implemented in the future,â€ according to Neil Sheehan – NRC Public Affairs Officer Region I.
In general, the access authorization requirements for U.S. nuclear power plants are already quite robust, he added.
â€œThe plants are required to have comprehensive programs and procedures in place to ensure that those with access to sensitive areas have been properly screened and checked,â€ Sheehan explained. â€œThat said, the NRC is constantly re-evaluating plant security measures and when we determine revisions are needed, we won’t hesitate to require them.â€
â€œThe Mobley arrest showed us that we had to devise and implement a much tougher security system to protect our nuclear plants from infiltration. The NRC truly stepped up to the plate and provided concrete, actionable recommendations that can be put into place immediately,â€ the senator said. â€œThis security plan will protect all New Yorkers and is a victory for nuclear power plants and their workers, who will now have enhanced protection. The plants in New York have a strong safety record and these tools will help them make it even stronger.â€
According to the senator, Mobley once told his co-workers, â€œWe are brothers in the union. But, if thereâ€™s a holy war, watch out!â€
Nobody reported that statement at the time, Schumer said. Now, under recommendation (a) workers will be more likely to report such a statement to supervisors, he added.
The recommendation regarding travel will also be helpful, Schumer noted.
In Mobleyâ€™s case it would have raised some red flags, he said, adding, â€œYou donâ€™t go to Yemen for a vacation.â€
Congressman Bill Owens joined Schumer this spring in calling for the audit.
He was unable to be in Oswego on Monday.
â€œIt is well past time that these safeguards are put in place. I applaud the work that Sen. Schumer has done,â€ Owens said in a prepared statement. â€œI look forward to working with him for the safety and stability of our communities.â€
Schumer thanked the congressman for his help in this matter.
Beginning in 2002, Mobley, an American who is being held in Yemen as a suspected militant with an Al-Qaeda affiliated group, worked at the Salem and Hope Creek nuclear power plants ion New Jersey and other plants in the area.
The company, Public Service Enterprise Group, said in a report to the NRC that Mobley worked as a laborer from 2002 to 2008, mainly during refueling outages for several weeks at a time.
Despite becoming radicalized as early as 2006, Mobley continued to work at the facility until 2008.
He worked for several contractors at six nuclear power plants in New Jersey from 2002 to 2008. He carried supplies and did maintenance work at the plants on Artificial Island in Lower Alloways Creek and worked at other plants in the region as well.
He satisfied the federal background checks as recently as 2008.
In March, Schumer called for the NRC Inspector General to conduct an immediate and thorough review of the commissionâ€™s procedures for background checks on new and transfer employees and for improved monitoring of current employees at all US nuclear plants.
The plants located in New York have been very successful in running safe operations. But, in an increasingly dangerous world, Schumer made the case that they should be provided with more resources to see that this strong safety record continues.
More information about the NRC report will be available at www.nrc.gov