Which story do you believe? Some say security at the Salem
Nuclear Power Plant, at the southern tip of New Jersey, is too lax.
Others say it's just fine. In these post-Sept. 11 times, when the
stakes are so high, it's hard to trust either view.
Two weeks ago, a National Guard sergeant played the role of
whistle-blower. He stepped forward and told state legislators that
maps of Salem had been found in a terrorist cave in Afghanistan. The
conclusion: Maybe Salem was a target. And if terrorists damaged any
of Salem's three reactors, Philadelphia, Atlantic City, and much of
South Jersey, Delaware, and southern Pennsylvania might be
Quicker than you can say nuke 'em, state and federal officials
leapt forward with denials. They said no maps of Salem had been
found in Afghanistan.
Which version do you believe?
Now, a senior security guard at Salem has come forward with a new
story. He claims that workers lacking proper security clearance are
allowed to roam sensitive areas at Salem. This senior security guard
managed to get a Massachusetts congressman to listen to his story.
He also spoke to me.
"The bottom line is, they're not following security procedures,"
said the security guard, who asked that his identity be kept
He went on to outline a system in which temporary workers,
recently hired to install fuel rods in a nuclear reactor, are
granted access to the reactor control room and other key areas at
Salem before background investigations are completed.
As for a possible terrorist attack, this officer contends that
plant supervisors and government officials "have the mentality that
it'll never happen here."
Rep. Edward Markey, a Democrat from the Boston area who sits on a
House committee that monitors nuclear plants, was so perturbed at
what this officer said that he sent a two-page letter to the Nuclear
"I am concerned about this possible breach in security," Markey
That was last Wednesday. The NRC's response came a day later,
after it sent an investigator to Salem: Don't worry, all is well.
The same message came from the firm that runs Salem, PSEG Nuclear.
But here's the rub: Neither the NRC nor PSEG Nuclear will
disclose details of security procedures. "That's classified," said
PSEG Nuclear spokesman, Skip Sindoni.
So who do you believe? The senior security guard speaks in the
cocksure tone of a man who knows what he's talking about.
But he reveals this important footnote: "I haven't been to work
in two weeks."
From his vacation perch, he says he monitors Salem's security
woes. How? He says he speaks routinely to his fellow security
"You're never going to prove anything," he warns.
"The NRC says it's fine, but what are you going to do?"
Good question. If nothing else, the stories of the National Guard
sergeant and now this senior security guard remind us that the
system for monitoring America's nuclear plants does not exactly
Trying to instill trust without revealing Salem's secrets, NRC
spokeswoman Diane Screnci was reduced to this assessment:
"It's a he said, she said story again."
Well said. But these days, that's not good enough.
Staff Writer Mike Kelly's e-mail address is