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Nuclear plant security found lax

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Nuclear Regulatory Commission inspectors found security deficiencies at the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant in March. Exactly what the inspectors found, though, is classified because of security concerns.

What little information is available to the public amounts to a cover letter sent to plant operators on July 23, saying inspectors found a problem of “greater than very low security significance.” The inspectors also found four other findings of “very low significance.” The letter gives no indication of what the security problems were.

PG&E, the utility company that owns the plant, won’t say more about the problems, citing security concerns. But Paul Flake, manager of nuclear communications for the company, said: “Shortly after the inspection, a number of issues were found, which were corrected before the inspectors left the site.”

When asked if the public or the plant had ever been in danger because of the security shortcomings cited in the letter, Flake referred to what he called Diablo Canyon’s “long history of safety since the beginning of the plant” and said the plant “remains safe and secure.”

“NRC’s force-on-force exercises realistically test a security force’s ability to protect and defend the plant against an attack,” said Victor Dricks, a public affairs officer for the commission. “An exercise that results in performance deficiencies is not an indication of a complete failure of the licensee’s protective strategy. Given the deficiencies that were identified, it is unlikely a terrorist attack would have been successful at Diablo Canyon.

“Any deficiencies that are identified are corrected before the NRC team leaves the site. We have verified that the corrective actions have been effective and will conduct follow-up inspections to ensure they remain so. We are confident the plant is safe and secure.”

The NRC conducts security tests of all 104 nuclear power plants in the United States every three years.

Safety problems open to public scrutiny were revealed in an NRC first-quarter report of the power-plant inspections, which cited 15 instances of “minor issues” with the plant, including problems with auxiliary feed water trains, the failure of three control-room radiation monitors, and a failure to include power-plant equipment in a seismic interaction program. The plant had an accidental discharge of carbon dioxide in June, which triggered a full-scale alert at the plant for the first time.

PG&E has applied for a renewal of its license, which is set to expire in 2024.

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