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Lapse allows guns into Tenn. nuke plant

By BEN LANDO and DONNA BORAK, UPI Energy Correspondents

WASHINGTON, Aug. 17 (UPI) -- Poor safeguards at the Tennessee Valley Authority's Sequoyah Nuclear Plant allowed M-4 assault rifles to enter the facility unchecked and be improperly stored in a secure zone, United Press International has learned.

The Sequoyah Nuclear Plant, located 18-miles north of Chattanooga,

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produces 26 percent of Tennessee's electricity and accounts for 65 percent of the state's total nuclear generation. Officials acknowledged the security lapse at the facility, saying personnel "inadvertently" transported the factory-sealed shipment of weapons to an incorrect warehouse.

"They delivered the right cargo to the right people; it was inadvertently taken to the wrong warehouse," TVA spokesman John Moulton told UPI in a telephone interview Wednesday.

Moulton said TVA was expecting the shipment of weapons without any ammunition for use by the private security personnel contracted by Pinkerton Government Services, Inc. The weapons were, however, inadvertently transported to the wrong warehouse, rather than the armory section of the nuclear facility.

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According to the Washington-based Project on Government Oversight, an independent government watchdog, the cargo contained 30 M-4 assault rifles. TVA declined to comment on the weapons details citing security reasons.

A Pinkerton security employee with first-hand knowledge of the incident told UPI on condition of anonymity Wednesday that the brown cardboard box of weapons had been mislabeled and slipped past numerous checkpoints at the nuclear site. Personnel at Pinkerton were strongly discouraged to speak to the media, the employee said.

"It should only take one, no less than two checkpoints to identify it (the box of weapons)," the employee said. "(There were) four chances for those weapons to be discovered on that day and they weren't."

Numerous calls to Pinkerton and its parent company, Securitas Security Services USA, Inc., and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security were unreturned.

There has been varying accounts of when the incident happened. TVA says the unchecked shipment arrived in late June, while POGO says it arrived last week. The employee says the shipment arrived on a Saturday in late July.

The employee said little has been done at the facility despite repeated warnings of potential vulnerabilities made to Pinkerton, TVA and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Complaints of possible threats to security, the employee said, were "scoffed at."

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"I told them that this very thing could happen," the employee said. "I'm not the only one who has been singing this song.

"TVA and Pinkerton royally screwed up."

Moulton, of the TVA, said Pinkerton was not involved in the incident.

Both Pinkerton and TVA have a hand in security operations at the nuclear site. The security company is responsible for inspecting shipments to the plant and TVA regulates security operations at the site.

Although security personnel mishandled the cargo after delivery, Moulton said that at no time were the weapons outside of TVA control. It took 24 hours before TVA personnel discovered the weapons, which were all accounted for.

Under TVA regulations, staff receiving shipments of weapons is required to notify nuclear security. But in this case, nuclear security was made aware of the package only after personnel discovered the misplaced cargo the next morning, Moulton said.

The facility is now undergoing a review of security procedures to determine if changes need to be made to the delivery system.

"We self-identified this matter for further evaluation to determine whether there are changes that need to be made in the receiving process," Moulton said. "We are evaluating that now."

The Pinkerton security employee said that before the incident, policy did not require security officials to inspect all packages with factory seals. Inspections were left to the discretion of security officials, the employee said. Since the security lapse, however, the inspection policy at TVA has been revamped to include more mandatory searches on items delivered to the site, the official said. But, the employee said, even with the upgraded security policy on cargos, exceptions of some cargo inspections still pose a risk.

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Moulton said the NRC was reviewing the matter. The NRC declined comment.

"Unfortunately, we don't comment on security at nuclear power plants because we don't want to release any information that might aid an adversary," Ken Clark, a spokesman for the NRC in Atlanta, told UPI in a telephone interview Wednesday.

Clark said any security concerns at the nuclear site had been addressed and there was "no imminent danger to the plant or public safety."

Additional calls to the NRC to confirm its involvement in the review of the incident at Sequoyah Nuclear Plant were not returned.

This incident highlights the vulnerabilities of the nation's nuclear power plants, said Peter Stockton, a spokesman for POGO.

"There are really terrible procedures allowing this to happen," he said in a telephone interview Wednesday.

Stockton said if disgruntled insiders knew about this vulnerability and were able to bring weapons and explosives into the nuclear facility, there may be irreparable damage.

"We're talking a whole lot worse than Three Mile Island," he said. "If an insider knows where the target sets are, in other words, the way to damage the reactor or to blow a hole in the spent fuel pool, it would be a hell of lot worse than anything we've ever seen in this country before."

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