Schumer Calls Federal Background Checks For Nuclear Workers ‘Inadequate’

OSWEGO, NY – Standing in Breitbeck Park this morning (April 7) with the cooling tower of Nine Mile Point in the background, US Senator Charles Schumer called for more vigorous security checks on current and potential employees at nuclear power generating facilities.

“The economy has been focused on jobs in Washington and that’s the right thing to do,” the senator said. “We have a whole lot of jobs up here in our power plants that provide safe and clean energy.”

“Our power plants up here are very careful about security. But, we’ve recently seen that the federal government isn’t doing everything it can to help our local power plants with their security checks,” Schumer said. “We just have to make sure that they are as safe as could be. And that nuclear materials and intelligence don’t get into the wrong people.”

As world wide terror threats remain, nuclear power plants, such as the three in Oswego County, will need more help with security, the senator said.

Schumer said he will push to ensure the power plants are given every resource to make sure no one infiltrates the sites.

There is a “hole in the system, not the fault of these plants but the fault of the federal government,” he said.

To drive home his point, the senator cite the recent reports saying that suspected Al Qaeda member Sharif Mobley was radicalized as early as 2006 – but maintained his job at a New Jersey nuclear plant until 2008 before moving to Yemen.

Mobley had started working for a contractor at the plant in 2002 performing maintenance and handling supplies.

“He somehow satisfied the standard security background checks for plant employees and continued to work until as recently as 2008 when he moved to Yemen,” Schumer said. “Just last month, Mobley was arrested in Yemen along with 10 other men, each of them (Mobley included) had ties to Al Qaeda. Just think about it, someone working at nuclear power plant with ties to Al Qaeda. It makes your hair stand up.”

It was a “major security lapse,” Schumer said, adding “It is one that we can prevent in the future.”

A stronger effort by the federal government is required, he said.

Something went wrong and Mobley’s radical beliefs were not discovered, Schumer said.

The nuclear plants in Scriba are only miles from tens of thousands of people and tens of miles from hundreds of thousands of people, the senator pointed out.

“If we don’t revamp our system for background checks then we could be putting folks throughout our region, throughout America, at risk,” he said. “So, I’m here to say this, people who have known ties to terrorist groups must not be allowed to work on our power plants.”

Schumer called for immediate investigation by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s inspector general into the federal background check process for new employees and procedures for monitoring current employees at all US nuclear plants.

“We have got to make sure the information is transferred from the authorities who keep an eye on terrorism to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission,” he said. “We have to connect the dots. There should be bells, whistles and alarms that go off immediately; we have the information that we need, it’s just a matter of having the left hand coordinate with the right hand.”

He is also asking the inspector general to determine if the federal government should be sending more resources to places like Oswego County’s power plants.

“We live in an increasingly dangerous world. Terrorists find new ways to try and hurt us because we’ve become very good at thwarting them in the ways that they’ve tried in the past. When it comes to safety, we can’t be too careful,” he said.

Schumer vowed to work with Congressman Bill Owens and others “to make sure that we never see a Sharif Mobley here in New York.”

“The impact of a terrorist having access to nuclear plants, particularly with the number of nuclear plants we have here in Oswego County, could be devastating,” Owens said. “I support fully the senator’s call for an inspection. I can tell you, as a member of the Homeland Security Committee, that we face some of the same issues that we had with the attempted bombing on Christmas Day. We’re going to stay focused on this and we will be coordinating with the NRC making sure that the kinds of steps that are being taken to share security information, as the senator pointed out, are done on a regular and rapid basis.”

He said there was a fundamental flaw in the system that needs to be corrected.