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NRC on alert at Beaver Valley nuclear plant in Shippingport

| Friday, March 8, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has increased scrutiny at the Beaver Valley nuclear plant in Shippingport since an inspection in August uncovered a security problem, the agency disclosed.

The NRC and the plant's operator, FirstEnergy Corp., declined to detail the problem. But security was never breached, and plant operators fixed the problem immediately, said Jennifer Young, a spokeswoman for FirstEnergy.

Regulators have stepped up assessments of security at nuclear plants since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

The NRC has a four-level, color-coded scale for security violations, with a green violation being the least severe. Beaver Valley's violation was greater than green, the NRC said.

The security issue probably ranks more like a misdemeanor than a felony, a nuclear power expert said on Thursday, based on the inspection procedure code the NRC listed in its annual assessment letter for the plant, released on Wednesday.

That likely had to do with access to the plant, possibly anything from how well motion sensors, cameras and door locks worked to background checks on guards, said David Lochbaum of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“The good thing is that it's been found and identified. The NRC won't leave the site until compensatory measures have been put in place,” Lochbaum said. “I'm not trying to dismiss it, but I wouldn't be ... unable to sleep at night.”

The NRC informed the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency of the problem. A spokeswoman there declined to give details.

A security violation like the one at the Beaver plant will typically bring increased attention from the NRC for about a year, said Neil Sheehan, a spokesman for the agency.

None of the 420 plant workers in the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers have reported any problems or changes in security, said Jeff Davis, a union representative. But he added that managers aren't likely to explain new security measures to workers if those changes don't affect them directly.

“I think people feel pretty safe that there's no bad guys getting into the plant,” said Davis, business manager at IBEW Local 29 in Green Tree. “The public just can't walk in there and get in — it just doesn't happen.”

Timothy Puko is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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