NRC Continues Anti-Terrorism Tests

c The Associated Press


WASHINGTON (AP) - The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, reversing course, decided Tuesday against scrapping a program designed to test security against terrorist attacks at nuclear power plants.

The program, which was begun after the Gulf War in 1991, was quietly eliminated in September as part of a cost-cutting reorganization.

But the elimination prompted sharp criticism from some of the security specialists at the NRC and - once it surfaced publicly - from some members of Congress.

Earlier Tuesday, Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., send a letter to NRC Chairman Shirley Ann Jackson criticizing the decision to shut down the program. He demanded a detailed explanation.

The NRC issued a statement late Tuesday saying Jackson had directed the staff to reinstate the program immediately and resume security evaluations that had been scheduled previously at 11 nuclear reactor facilities.

In an article Nov. 3, the Los Angeles Times reported that nearly a dozen NRC security officers, including some involvede in the counterterrorist program, had filed written objections to the decision to shut the program down.

The newspaper quoted Richard Rosano, the NRC's acting branch chief for security, as saying that the program had been endedas part of a broader reorganization dictated, in part, by a declining budget.

Rosario, who could not be reached late Tuesday for comment, also told the newspaper that some questions had been raised about the program's legality.

Some utility companies with nuclear power plants had complained about the cost of anti-terrorist exercises.

The program - known as "Operational Safeguards Response Evaluations" - was designed to test the readiness of nuclear power plant operators to detect and repel armed terrorist attacks.

It included NRC officials conducting "mock attacks" at some reactor sites to test the security systems. In once case, members of the NRC team reportedly had penetrated a nuclear power plant to the extent that if they had they been real terrorists they could have damaged equipment enough to cause a meltdown.

According to the Los Angeles Times account, the program over the years had identified serious security lapses at nearly half of the country's nuclear power plants.

The anti-terrorist operation had not yet evaluated 11 power plants when the program was shut down Sept. 30. "The initial focus on the program will be to complete (evaluations) at the 11 facilities that have not received this evaluation to date," Jackson said in the statement.

AP-NY-1 1-10-98 2133EST

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