Critics Say New Policy Hides Nuclear Safety Problems from Public

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(Host) Federal regulators will no longer reveal security problems discovered at nuclear power plants. The new policy applies to Vermont Yankee, and critics say it will keep the public in the dark about important safety issues.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Less than three weeks before the September 11 attacks, Vermont Yankee received the worst grade in the country on a security drill. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission staged a mock attack on the nuclear plant and found that Yankee’s defenses failed in a number of significant ways.

A later test showed improved results. But if a similar drill were held today, Yankee’s performance would be kept secret under a new NRC policy that was announced last week. State Auditor of Accounts Elizabeth Ready says the policy is misguided.

(Ready) “There is no doubt that Vermont Yankee is the largest risk and the largest terrorist target in the state of Vermont and for an agency that’s known more as an advocate and less of a watchdog to be shutting the public out would give a lot of concerns.”

(Dillon) The NRC says it will continue to inspect plants. But those results – and any enforcement action it takes – will no longer be made public.

Ray Shadis of the New England Coalition, a group critical of Vermont Yankee, says Yankee has made improvements, but that many questions remain.

(Shadis) “We don’t know how well trained the security people are. We don’t know exactly what they are poised to protect against. Just recently in NRC’s periodic inspection, it was revealed that one of the guards had accidentally discharged his weapon. This is serious business, because it could have been pointed anywhere at the time.”

(Dillon) Yankee spokesman Rob Williams says that Yankee over the past few years has invested $8 million to enhance security after September 11.

(Williams) “That includes guard towers at key vantage points, additional fencing, additional surveillance equipment, and additional security staff and weapons and also new and different strategies for response.”

(Dillon) Williams says the NRC policy change will still allow the federal agency to share information with local and staff officials. An NRC spokesman said the agency tried to balance the public’s right to know, versus the need to keep security information out of the hands of terrorists. The agency says it may provide general information on security issues that would not include the names of the power plants or other details.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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