Sleeping on the Job

By Matthew Harwood

USA Today's opinion page casts its critical gaze at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

It seems a few months back a whistleblower at the Peach Bottoms nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania sent an anonymous letter to the NRC complaining of fellow security guards asleep on the job.

Nothing happened.

The guard then took matters into his own hand and videotaped his colleagues dozing and sent it to a New York City news program.

According to the editorial board, "all hell broke loose" after the tape aired.

The company that runs Peach Bottom fired the guard company. The NRC launched a probe and found ten guards had slept on day or night shifts and that a supervisor had pressured potential whistleblowers to be quiet.

While the sleeping security guard is traditionally comic fodder, this is no laughing matter the editors warn.

If this were an episode of The Simpsons, it would be amusing. But the failures here are real and sobering. The plant owner failed to supervise its security contractor, the security firm failed to supervise its guards and the NRC failed to do its regulatory job, even when an insider provided a road map.

Nuclear power plant security is a critical issue, the editors state, as the risks of global warming lead to a "nuclear renaissance."

And will greater reliance on nuclear power, comes a greater security threat of terrorists attacking nuclear power plants.

The effect of such an attack would be "catastrophic," forewarns the op-ed.

The Project on Government Oversight, an independent watchdog group that has long followed nuclear plant issues, estimates that it would take terrorists just 45 seconds to go from the Peach Bottom plant's outer fence to its spent fuel pool, where an explosion and fire could create a radioactive plume stretching for miles.

And as the editorial makes plain, the problem isn't laziness on the part of the guards, but exhaustion. Current regulations allow security guards to work 72 hours a week and perform six, 12-hour shifts. According to the anonymous whistleblower's letter that kicked off this scandal, the writer noted guards coming to work "exhausted."

In response, the NRC is planning on trimming hours, but not enough to solve the problem, the editors argue.

Guard fatigue is a common and serious problem and it's one Security Management has dealt with before. Check out "Guarding Against Fatigue," by Guillermo Guevara Penso. Penso, who runs security at the elite Escuela Campo Alegre (Happy Field School) in Caracas, Venezuela, details how he reorganized his security guards' shifts to produce this result:

Alert, content, and efficient guards that can protect the school’s students, faculty, and staff from those who want in for all the wrong reasons.



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