Beaver nuclear plant security failings revealed

Second year in row for facility

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A drill that simulated a terrorist attack on FirstEnergy Corp.'s Beaver Valley nuclear power plant in Beaver County has found a security shortcoming for the second year in a row, according to preliminary findings released by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The NRC's April security inspection, which featured a mock attack using laser tag weapons, also identified five additional areas where performance didn't meet industry standards and six findings of "low security significance" that, while violations of NRC requirements, did not result in citations.

The NRC's report, released Monday, said the most significant security deficiency -- which it did not identify for security reasons -- was "promptly corrected," and security measures were put in place before inspectors left the power plant.

But the NRC has scheduled a meeting for Sept. 5 at its Region 1 office in Montgomery County to discuss the inspection drill findings with Akron, Ohio-based FirstEnergy. The meeting is not open to the public because of the security-related nature of the findings, and the NRC and FirstEnergy have declined to discuss the specific security issues publicly.

If the preliminary finding is upheld, the 1,800 megawatt facility will likely be subject to an increased number of supplemental inspections, although fines are unlikely, according to NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan.

"The inspection was a 'force-on-force' exercise," Mr. Sheehan said. "The plant security opposed an invading force that was trying to reach certain target sets. If they can do that it can reveal a vulnerability."

Mr. Sheehan said the NRC implemented a host of security changes following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, including the force-on-force inspections in which paramilitary squads attempt to breach plant security in a simulated attack.

"We want to be very circumspect when we talk about a power plant's level of security," Mr. Sheehan said. "In this case the plant is not vulnerable but did have an issue that warranted prompt attention."

Jennifer Young, a company spokeswoman, said the company believes the problem was due to an issue with how the force-on-force inspection drill was managed by the company, not a true security issue.

Ms. Young declined to reveal details of the security problem identified at the plant in April or the one found during the routine NRC inspection last year, but noted that the issue was corrected and the plant passed a follow-up inspection.

In 2012, according to an NRC report to Congress, the commission conducted 173 security inspections and FirstEnergy's Beaver Valley plant was one of five in the nation found to have a significant security deficiency, termed a "greater than green" finding by the commission. Also last year the NRC conducted 23 force-on-force inspections and cited one power plant with a "greater than green" finding.

There are 65 commercial nuclear power plants in the U.S., with a total of 104 nuclear reactors. Together they generate about 20 percent of the nation's electricity.

Beaver Valley is one of 36 plants that have more than one reactor. Its Unit 1 went on line in 1976 and Unit 2 in 1987. Together the Westinghouse pressurized-water reactors produce more than 1,800 megawatts of power.

Beaver Valley is one of 17 U.S. nuclear power plants in the NRC's "regulatory response column" listing, which shows plants where "greater than green" findings have been confirmed. FirstEnergy's Davis-Besse nuclear power plant on Lake Erie, 26 miles east of Toledo, Ohio, is also among those 17 plants.

Seven other nuclear plants, including FirstEnergy's Perry 1 reactor, 40 miles northeast of Cleveland, are listed by the NRC as having "degraded" or "multiple/repetitive" security problems.

Ms. Young said that if the April "greater than green" finding for Beaver Valley is upheld at the Sept. 5 hearing, it could result in a downgrade in the plant's regulatory status.

"A change in Beaver Valley's regulatory status means some supplemental inspections," she said, "but we expect to be successful in those."


Don Hopey: or 412-263-1983.


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