or the first time since the terrorist attacks of
Sept. 11, 2001, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will resume
mock armed assaults on nuclear plants, including an invasion
of the Indian Point nuclear power plant in Westchester County
this spring or summer.
The commission had suspended the drills after the 9/11
attacks to develop new exercises that better reflected
terrorist threats. But commission members told Congress
yesterday that revamped drills would resume this year,
starting at four plants — including an exercise in June or
July, or possibly earlier, at Indian Point, 35 miles north of
Midtown Manhattan, in Buchanan.
"I think we agree that that is clearly a priority," Jeffrey
S. Merrifield, a member of the commission, said under
questioning by Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has pressed
for the drills in light of heightened anxiety over safety and
security at the plant.
The so-called force-on-force drills will also be conducted
more frequently, every three years instead of every eight
years. The last such drill at Indian Point was in March
Word of the drills came as the commission weathered
controversy over remarks by its chairman, Richard A. Meserve,
who a day earlier criticized a state-commissioned report on
emergency plans for apparently giving "undue weight" to the
impact of a terrorist attack on the plant.
Mr. Meserve last month began notifying members of Congress
about the new drills, without identifying the plants. Mrs.
Clinton had urged the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to include
Indian Point among the first to be tested. She also encouraged
the Entergy Corporation,
which owns the plant, to volunteer to be among the first, and
it did so, a commission spokeswoman said.
Antinuclear activists and other critics have questioned,
particularly after Sept. 11, how well the nation's 103 active
reactors are guarded, pointing to reports of fatigued and
unprepared security officers.
In a report written for Entergy last year, a majority of
the guards at the Indian Point plant said they doubted that
they could thwart terrorists, and several were found to be out
of shape and lacking training. Entergy has said that since the
report was delivered it has improved the training of the
security force and has put in place a variety of measures to
In past drills, a small team of intruders would enter a
plant's premises and, with simulated weapons, try to
outmaneuver the security guards to get to vulnerable
Critics have derided the drills for involving only a
handful of intruders and for the fact that the nuclear
commission tells the plant in advance when the drill will take
place. Commission officials have said the mock intruders in
half of the cases reached vulnerable areas, potentially
causing a release of radiation.
Diane Screnci, a spokeswoman for the commission, said it
would have new regulations governing the exercises in place
next month. But she said the commission still planned to
notify the plants in advance because they must assign certain
guards for the exercise while the others continue guarding the
Mrs. Clinton, who questioned members of the commission
appearing before the Senate Subcommittee on Clean Air, Climate
Change and Nuclear Safety, said afterward, "This will help us
determine where we stand when it comes to security at Indian
Jim Steets, a spokesman for Entergy, said the company
welcomed the drills as an opportunity to demonstrate the
strength of its security force, which he said had been
bolstered since 9/11. Last month Entergy announced that it
would merge the two security forces at the plant, a legacy
from a time when different owners operated the two active
reactors. Entergy bought Indian Point 3 from the New York
Power Authority in 2000 and Indian Point 1, which is defunct,
and Indian Point 2 from Con Edison in 2001.
"We are willing participants," Mr. Steets said. "We would
be more than happy to be one of the early places to be
Alex Matthiessen, executive director of Riverkeeper, an
environmental organization that has raised concerns about
safety and security at the plant, said he was elated that
Indian Point would be among the first plants tested.
"As the nuclear plant in the most densely populated area, I
think it is fitting and appropriate to subject it to the
force-on-force testing this year," Mr. Matthiessen said.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission declined to discuss how
the drills would be conducted.