Security workers placed on leave at nuclear plant
VAN BUREN COUNTY, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - After receiving a tip from an employee at the Palisades Nuclear Generating Station, the I-Team is now confirming several security officers at the plant have been placed on paid administrative leave.
The employee, speaking on the condition of anonymity, tells Newschannel 3's I-Team there's some concern about security at the plant with the absence of the guards.
A spokesperson for Entergy, the parent company of Palisades, acknowledged an ongoing investigation into the matter resulting in the guards being placed on paid leave, but denied any change of security levels in or around the plant.
"An investigation identified anomalies within the site's fire tour records," said Val Gent, senior communications specialist. "We have implemented strong interim actions to make sure we have appropriate staffing levels and that fire tours are conducted properly."
When asked about the specifics regarding the fire tour anomalies, Gent declined to elaborate, saying that the matter was still under investigation.
At 45 years old, Palisades is one of the oldest nuclear reactors in the country, and no stranger to controversy.
Nuclear energy critic Kevin Kamps, says the lack of specifics from Entergy are worrisome.
"Did security guards make their rounds and not really do it [fire inspections]?" asks Kamps, who is a radioactive waste watchdog for Beyond Nuclear, a group pushing to phase out nuclear energy.
Kamps says fire is one of the greatest potential risks of a reactor meltdown.
"If they're willing to play fast and loose and take shortcuts on that big of a risk, a fire at Palisades, we're in real peril downwind," he said.
The I-Team asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission why there was no media was notified about the investigation. A spokesperson for the NRC said the commission had no obligation to notify media because there was never an immediate concern about public safety.
"The NRC does not issue press releases on inspections that are in progress since the agency has not finalized its assessment and review," wrote Viktoria Mitlyng, a public affairs officer with the NRC.
"We don't have an immediate safety or security concern in this areahowever NRC inspectors stationed at the plant, nuclear plant security inspectors and managers at the NRC continue to monitor this issue," she added.
Mitlyng later emphasized that the NRC places high priority on communicating with the public, adding that in her view, it would not be responsible for the NRC to issue public statements on an ongoing inspection into an issue before the agency has had a full picture of what occurred.
"After we are done with our assessment, we will issue a publicly available inspection report detailing our inspection findings," Mitlyng said.
However, over at Beyond Nuclear, Kamps accuses the NRC of having a history of not being transparent about Palisades.
"To be frank, the NRC is complicit in helping to cover up," he said.
Kamps referenced several incidents, chief among them, he says, a high level radioactive waste storage cask that ran the risk of falling to the floor of the plant and causing a radioactive fire.
"The NRC helped for many months to cover that up," he said.
Kamps also says several security workers have been fired in previous years from Palisades for blowing the whistle on safety issues.
"They won their case at the Department of Labor, but the NRC said, 'We don't agree' so they've never been hired back."
Several studies, some of them NRC studies reported by Newschannel 3 have been very critical of Palisade's security culture in recent years, but Kamps says the NRC has a track record of not executing on its findings.
"I have to wonder what, if anything the NRC is going to dothey often don't do anything at all," he said.
As for the most recent incident, the NRC tells Newschannel 3 it's doing its job.
"We are closely monitoring the plant's investigation as well as the plant's response to the situation including the appropriate conduct of fire tours" read a statement, in part, provided to Newschannel 3's I-Team.
When asked about the safety track record of Palisades, Gent, the plant's spokesperson, defended the reactor's safety culture, and workers.
"Palisades is safe," she said. "We are ranked in the highest safety category according to the NRC and have 600 highly skilled and trained employees who work here."
As for if or when the workers placed on leave will be returning, that remains a mystery.
Newschannel 3 made multiple attempts to reach out to the labor unions representing the workers placed on paid leave to participate in this story, none of the unions returned Newschannel 3's requests to comment.