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Nuclear security upgrades on track

This story was published 4/29/2002

By Chris Mulick
Herald staff writer

Energy Northwest expects to meet the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's Aug. 31 deadline for implementing security upgrades ordered in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"We are marching along to schedule," said John Wyrick, resource protection manager at the 1,150-megawatt Columbia Generating Station north of Richland.

The NRC imposed a series of new security requirements and rolled them and others into one formal order Feb. 25. Energy Northwest, the 16-utility public power consortium that operates the nuclear plant, already was in compliance with about half the changes.

The nuclear community has understandably kept details of new requirements under wraps, but they generally aim to upgrade protections for truck bombs, other land-based threats, water-based attacks and insider sabotage. Wyrick said Energy Northwest still has work left to do to complete specific actions in all four areas.

The order included new standards for training, increased patrols, new security posts and physical barriers and new restrictions on access to sites, according to the NRC.

"There are a lot of refinements," said NRC spokesman Breck Henderson. "Terrorists are aware nuclear power plants are hard targets. We're making it even harder."

Many of the roughly 30 ordered actions were much more specific. For example, some may be specific to certain sizes of bombs that could be used in an attack.

"Some were very simple, some were very complex," Wyrick said.

Because of individual differences in the country's 104 nuclear plants and their sites, the NRC is telling plant operators only what to do, not necessarily how to do it.

Complying with the new standards at Columbia will cost Northwest ratepayers about $2 million. Most of it will pay for upgrades outside the plant and will include new, easily visible physical structures.

Save for the delivery of equipment by various vendors, Energy Northwest ought to be largely self-reliant as the deadline approaches. An agreement with the Tri-City Railroad for new restrictions on train traffic already has been reached.

The Department of Energy also has agreed to new security activities around the plant on land outside what Energy Northwest leases from the agency. Some of that land includes a federal waste burial site.

"We are working with them and want to cooperate," said DOE spokesman Mike Talbot.

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