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Wackenhut Conflict of Interest

On June 9, 2004, the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), an industry lobbying group and trade association, hired the Wackenhut Corporation, a private security firm, to manage and provide personnel for “force-on-force” mock terrorist attack exercises at all 103 nuclear plants in the U.S.  These tests are one of the most important ways to ensure that security at our country’s nuclear plants is capable of defending against realistic terrorist threats.

Unfortunately, the tests have been compromised by a conflict of interest.  Wackenhut, the company conducting the security tests, also provides the security guards at almost half the country’s nuclear plants.  There is a strong motivation for Wackenhut-employed pretend terrorists to go soft when simulating an attack, and to let the Wackenhut-employed plant guards “win.”  If they are shown to be a weak guard force, Wackenhut may lose its contracts for guarding nuclear plants, as happened at the Indian Point nuclear plant near New York City.

Without assurance that the results of the force-on-force exercises accurately reflect the true capabilities of the guards to defend against a determined, well-trained, well-armed, and suicidal group of terrorists, they are worthless.  Worse, overly confident results can lull us into a false sense of security.

Public Citizen, along with other organizations such as the Project on Government Oversight, the Union of Concerned Scientists, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, and the Service Employees International Union, have called on the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to reject NEI’s hiring of Wackenhut to perform force-on-force tests.  NRC would never be allowed to hire Wackenhut themselves: federal regulations (48 CFR 2009.5) prohibit awarding a contract to a private company if there is an "organizational conflict of interest."  NRC should not simply delegate its authority to a private industry organization in order to skirt the law. 

Either another company should be hired to perform the security exercises, or, if a suitable company cannot be found, NRC should establish its own federal force.  This would not cost any more and would not require use of taxpayer funds; NRC derives over 90% of its budget from fees charged to the nuclear industry, and could simply charge the estimated $4.3 million expense to the nuclear industry, which is already paying millions to Wackenhut.

NRC and the nuclear industry must begin taking the threat of terrorism against nuclear plants seriously, and stop treating it as a bottom-line issue.

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    » cmep | energy enviro nuclear | nuclear power plants | security | wackenhut

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