August 7, 2004
George Bush's Nuclear Regulatory Commission is failing miserably in ensuring that the nation's nuclear plants are safe from terrorist attacks.
Two recent actions by the NRC illustrate the problem.
First, the NRC has let the nuclear energy lobby itself hire the contractor to test the preparedness of the plants.
And the contractor the lobby has picked is none other than Wackenhut, which already provides security for about half of the nuclear power plants.
Both the nuclear lobby, which is called the Nuclear Energy Institute, and Wackenhut have an incentive not to disclose problems in terrorism preparedness.
"This is more than a case of the proverbial fox guarding the hen house," says Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight. "It is not an apparent conflict of interest, but a blatant conflict of interest."
What's more, Wackenhut has a blemished record in performing this kind of work, according to the watchdog group. "Earlier this year, the Department of Energy's Inspector General found that Wackenhut managers had been cheating on such force-on-force exercises for two decades at the Y-12 nuclear facility in Oak Ridge, Tennessee," the group said. It quoted a report from the inspector general on a June 2003 exercise whose results, he said, were "tainted and unreliable."
The second irresponsible action the NRC has taken is, amazingly, to relax the fire safeguards at nuclear power plants, even though these plants are Al Qaeda targets.
Anne-Marie Cusac, The Progressive's investigative reporter, details this shocker in the August issue of the magazine. Her article, "Fire Hazard: Bush Leaves Nuclear Plants at Risk," shows that the Bush Administration, rather than insisting that the plants have two electrical shutdown systems in place in case of fire (which is the current standard), or rather than increasing the fire security, is actually decreasing it. The new rule would "let the power companies rely on workers to run through the plants and try to turn off the reactors by hand while parts of the facilities are engulfed in flames," Cusac reports.
Why the change? The nuclear power plants weren't abiding by the old standard, so the Administration decided to make their laxity the new policy, Cusac finds.
On the campaign trail, Bush repeatedly says he's made the country safer.
But that's not true when it comes to nuclear power plants.