More Palisades nuclear plant security workers expressing worry
VAN BUREN COUNTY, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) – Several security officers placed on leave at one of the country's oldest nuclear reactors say they're being treated as scapegoats by plant management.
This comes after the Newschannel 3 I-Team first uncovered an active investigation at the Palisades Nuclear Generating Station revolving around what plant officials describe as "fire tour anomalies."
"I'm on paid leave right now, and I have been for almost a month," said one of the plant workers, agreeing to speak with Newschannel 3's I-Team on the condition of anonymity.
"Now the company [Entergy] lawyer is asking us questions, saying the NRC will be speaking with us…and that we could be criminally liable," the worker added.
The officer also claims security workers at the plant were never trained to do fire tours.
"The training department never once trained us on fire tours," the officer said. "Security used to have a fire brigade that had a certain number of security members on shift, but when Entergy bought the plant they got rid of that…there's a whole fire brigade staff at that plant right now that have never trained anybody on how to do the fire tours."
22 security officers have been placed on paid administrative leave according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
According to a source with knowledge of previous Palisades labor issues and investigations, physical paperwork indicated that fire inspections had been completed by the plant's security officers, however, electronic records tracking movement in the plant showed the opposite, a discrepancy putting the fire inspection paperwork in doubt.
That source, tells the Newschannel 3 I-Team the supervisors at the plant who signed off on the paperwork were not placed on leave during the investigation, adding concern about the seriousness of the investigation.
"There's a significant lack of leadership in the security area there, that's for sure," said the source.
Beyond Nuclear, a group known for its opposition to nuclear energy, is not mincing words about the current Palisades investigation.
"Fire itself is 50% of the risk in terms of a meltdown," said Kevin Kamps, a radioactive waste watchdog for Beyond Nuclear. "It's as much of a risk as all the other risks put together, terrorist attacks, natural disasters, and accidents."
Kamps said he is also concerned about the Palisades track record, referencing several incidents in the 40 year old plant's recent history.
"We have such collusion at Palisades, in large measure we've got the NRC covering up for Entergy (owner of the plant), and the NRC has allowed for fire risks to go unaddressed for decades now."
The NRC, however strongly defended its actions at Palisades, and elsewhere.
"The NRC initially identified the discrepancies while conducting safety inspections and continues to closely monitor the plants investigation in response," wrote Prema Chandrathil, a Public Affairs Officer for the NRC. "We look at records, analyze the data, review the plants actions and are having daily discussions with plant personnel."
Chandrathil added the NRC does not have an immediate safety or security concern about the plant.
Some of the security officers, however, disagree, worrying about security at the plant with 22 people on paid leave.
"It's the supervisors who penciled in the security checks…they're all cleared I guess," said one of officers about the investigation. "But the head security supervisor has told officers on shift that a good chunk of people will not be coming back," the worker added.
Entergy, owner of Palisades, said the plant, says the company is taking the investigation seriously, and disputing those both inside and outside the plant critiquing the current state of security.
"Fire tours at Palisades are periodic visual inspections conducted by plant personnel to identify any early indications of fire," wrote Val Gent, a Senior Communications Specialist for Palisades. "These visual inspections are simply one component of our comprehensive fire protection program."
According to Gent, Palisades officials first became aware of the fire tour anomalies in early June, and began an internal investigation shortly thereafter.
"The bottom line is that we cannot tolerate employees stating they completed a task when they didn't," Gent wrote. "We are obligated to fully investigate any such instances.
When asked about the specific accusations made by the security officer placed on leave who spoke to Newschannel 3, Gent declined to go into detail, citing the ongoing investigation.