Nuclear Power Plant Security Forces Fare Better on Inspections than TSA Agents

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) released details from its security inspection program for commercial nuclear power reactors and Category I fuel cycle facilities, finding only one “failure to protect designated target set components effectively” during the 23 NRC-evaluated force-on-force (FOF) exercises conducted in 2014.

Although not perfect, the marks are far better than inspection results conveyed earlier in June when Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screeners were reported to have failed 95% of checkpoint tests for mock explosives or banned weapons. Of course, testing methods used by the NRC are different from those used by the TSA, but the fact that nuclear power plant security forces performed well should be reassuring to the public.

The NRC report is submitted annually to the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee in classified and unclassified form. It describes the results of each security response evaluation conducted and any relevant corrective action taken by a licensee during the previous year. The unclassified version, released on June 30, does not name specific plants or security deficiencies identified because the information is considered sensitive.

FOF inspections are typically conducted during a four-week period. They include both tabletop drills and exercises that simulate combat between a mock adversary force and the licensee’s security force.

The adversary force attempts to reach and simulate damage to significant systems and components (referred to as “target sets”) that protect the reactor’s core or the spent fuel, which could potentially cause a radioactive release to the environment. The licensee’s security force, in turn, attempts to interdict the adversary to prevent it from reaching target sets and, thus, causing such a release.

The NRC notifies licensees in advance of FOF inspections for operational and personnel safety reasons as well as logistical purposes. The notification allows time for the licensee to prepare and coordinate two sets of security officers—one for maintaining actual plant security and the other for participating in the exercises. In addition, the licensee must arrange for a group of individuals to control and monitor each exercise. The NRC says the key goal is to balance personnel and plant safety with the maintenance of actual plant security during an exercise that is as realistic as possible.

In addition to FOF inspections, the NRC also manages a security baseline inspection program. The following areas are examined during those assessments: access control; access authorization; protective strategy evaluation; security training; equipment performance, testing, and maintenance; fitness for duty program; protection of safeguards information; review of power reactor target sets; material control and accounting; and information technology (cyber) security.

The NRC conducted 195 security baseline inspections in 2014, finding no reportable problems in 115 of them. Of those that did have deficiencies, more than 90% of the findings were classified “green,” which means they resulted in very low safety or security significance. Whenever a finding is identified during a security inspection, the NRC ensures the issue is corrected immediately or compensatory measures are put in place.

Results from inspections conducted during the past three years are shown in Table 1.

Table 1. Data reported in Tables 1, 2, and 3 of the NRC’s “Report to Congress on the Security Inspection Program for Commercial Power Reactors and Category I Fuel Cycle Facilities: Results and Status Update” is shown here. Source: NRC

Aaron Larson, associate editor (@AaronL_Power, @POWERmagazine)

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