ASHINGTON, Sept. 27 — When two Nuclear Regulatory
Commission officials found a security guard asleep at his post at
the Indian Point 2 nuclear reactor last year, the agency decided not
to issue a notice of violation because there was no terrorist attack
on the plant during the half-hour or so that the guard was sleeping,
a Congressional audit has found.
The incident was included in a report issued late Wednesday that
was broadly critical of the commission's assessments of reactor
security, but the reactor was not identified. People with knowledge
of the audit, which was done by the General Accounting Office, the
investigative arm of Congress, confirmed on Friday that the incident
occurred at Indian Point 2, in Buchanan, N.Y., about 35 miles north
of Midtown Manhattan, on July 29, 2002.
The auditors said that nationwide, the Nuclear Regulatory
Commission tended not to issue formal citations and to minimize the
significance of problems it found if the problems did not cause
actual damage. Commission inspectors treated the Indian Point
incident as a "non-cited violation" because it did not affect plant
security, according to a report issued by the commission that
describes an inspection at the plant. The report also says the
commission did not treat the incident more seriously because no
guards had been found sleeping "more than twice during the past
The report described the guard as "inattentive to duty," a term
that the agency often uses in its reports. Agency officials say they
cannot prove that an individual is asleep, even one who is not
moving and whose eyes are closed.
The commission has tried to reduce sleeping on the job at nuclear
plants by limiting how much overtime a plant operator can order a
guard to perform.
"The security response officer's failure to meet specific
conditions of the Indian Point 2 Physical Security Plan, relative to
assuring that armed responders will be available on site at all
times for response to safeguards events, constitutes a performance
deficiency," the inspection report said. "The cause of this event
was reasonably within Entergy's ability
to foresee and correct; and should have been prevented." Entergy
Corporation bought Indian Point 2 from Consolidated Edison and the companion reactor,
Indian Point 3, from the New York Power Authority.
But the incident had "low safety significance" because "no actual
intrusion occurred," the inspection report said.
The General Accounting Office audit, which examined the Nuclear
Regulatory Commission's monitoring of reactors' security nationwide,
contained several other critical findings, including that the
"attackers" used in security drills lack adequate training and the
weapons that simulate those terrorists would use, and that the
defenders are unrealistically overstaffed. During drills, the
commission allows the use of off-duty guards, guards from other
plants and police officers, all of whom have defensive training.
That issue has arisen at Indian Point, which held a
"force-on-force" drill in midsummer. This month, the Project on
Government Oversight, a nonprofit group here that has studied and
reported extensively on reactor security, released a report based in
part on interviews with guards at Indian Point. The report
complained that in the drill this summer, the attackers crossed open
terrain in broad daylight, something terrorists would not do.
But the director of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's office of
nuclear security and incident response, Roy P. Zimmerman, said the
commission "brings in experts" to train those people posing as
attackers. He would not say whether these experts were from the
armed forces or elsewhere. In the 1980's, the commission used Green
Berets to assess plant security.
The General Accounting Office also said that auditors who
reviewed 80 commission reports of force-on-force exercises found
that at 12 plants, the operators added security guards, and at 35,
guards got extra training. Most plants also took special precautions
before the drills.
"It's virtually cheating when you do that," said Peter Stockton,
a senior investigator with the Project on Government Oversight and a
former security adviser to the federal energy secretary.
Mr. Zimmerman said the commission expected plants that made such
improvements to do so permanently. But the General Accounting Office
report said that a regulatory commission official, whom it did not
identify, said the agency could require the plants to have on duty
only the number of guards specified in their security plans, and
that if they added guards before a drill and removed them later, the
agency "could not hold a licensee accountable for ramping down"
after the exercise.
Mr. Zimmerman said that in the case of the sleeping guard, even
if the commission did not issue a formal violation, "it still
requires that corrective action be taken."
"It sounds as if the inspection process looked at the bigger
picture of whether this was indicative of a more chronic situation,"
he said, "or whether it appeared to be isolated in nature, in order
to be able to assign the appropriate safety context to the
However, the General Accounting Office report said the Nuclear
Regulatory Commission's findings that security was adequate might be
wrong in some cases because violations were not always pursued.
In its report, which was requested by Representatives Edward J.
Markey of Massachusetts and John D. Dingell of Michigan, both
Democrats, the accounting office did not reach a conclusion about
the adequacy of security at Indian Point or any other plant.
But it listed other cases, in which the plants were not
identified, where the commission staff failed to follow up. In one,
according to the accounting office, the commission found that tamper
alarms on a door in a sensitive area had been disabled, and "the
only compensatory measure implemented was to have a guard check the
location once during each 12-hour shift."