SEABROOK NH Feb 19 2017 — The Nuclear Regulator Commission issued a mid-level violation to NextEra Energy Seabrook nuclear power plant over a 2015 incident in which a security guard put a foam earplug and paper down the barrel of a rifle used by guards.
The violation could have carried a $140,000 fine, but that was waived because of NextEra’s response when the tampering was discovered.
According to the NRC notice sent to NextEra Energy Seabrook on Feb. 15 by Regional Administrator Daniel H. Dorman, the determination to impose a Severity Level III violation over the Aug. 14, 2015, incident came after a review by the NRC’s Office of Investigations.
NRC Region I spokesman Neil Sheehan said there are four levels of severity for this class of violation, with Level I being the most serious.
“Even though it was an individual guard who is no longer employed at the plant who was responsible for the weapon tampering in August 2015, NextEra is ultimately responsible for the actions of all of its employees and contractors as the licensed operator for the facility,” Sheehan said.
Seabrook Station contracts with G4S Security Services, which provides guards to private companies across the country.
According to NextEra Energy Seabrook spokesman Alan Griffith, the company takes the incident “with the utmost seriousness,” because nothing is more important to the company “than protecting public health and safety.”
“... Seabrook Station’s highest priority is to ensure the safe and secure operation of our facility,” Griffith said in a written statement. “It is worth noting that the NRC recognized Seabrook Station’s ‘prompt identification and comprehensive actions taken, and planned, to address this matter.’ . . . It was fully investigated and determined to be caused by one contracted security officer who is no longer employed at the plant.”
According to Dorman’s letter, the “underlying technical concern would have been evaluated as having very low security significance,” but because the act was willful, the NRC increased the violation’s significance.
“Willful violations are of particular concern because the NRC’s regulatory program is based, in part, on licensees and their employees acting truthfully and with integrity,” Dorman wrote.
The base level fine for a Level III violation is $140,000, Sheehan said, but the fine was waived because of several mitigating factors relating to NextEra’s response.
According to the NRC, NextEra identified the problem during routine weapon cleaning shortly after it occurred, immediately notifying the NRC. The company also initiated its own investigation, concluding the tampering was an isolated and intentional act by one individual, and the company implemented corrective actions.
Dorman wrote that among those corrective actions are field inspection of the company’s firearms once per shift, as well as using the incident in its annual training for security personnel and supervisors.
Such a response showed Seabrook Station officials took the situation “very seriously,” Sheehan said.
According to the “factual summary” issued previously by the NRC, the one rifle in question was at a Seabrook Station security outpost on Aug. 2, 2015, and returned to the armory on Aug. 21, 2015 for routine cleaning, when “the armorer found a foam earplug insert and two pieces of rolled up paper had been stuffed in the barrel.” NextEra quickly notified the NRC’s on-site inspectors at the plant, who called the regional staff.
Beginning on Aug. 24, 2015, NRC investigators started interviewing security guards. One said he stood watch at the post where the rifle was kept on two occasions between Aug. 2 and Aug. 21, but denied putting anything in the barrel. Afterwards, he told coworkers “the interview made him feel like he had something to do with the tampered weapon” and might have been involved in “tampering with the rifle.”
In a subsequent interview, the guard told investigators “he believed he placed the material in the weapon,” but didn’t know why. He said he wasn’t “trying to hurt anyone or to assist anyone with gaining access to the site.” NRC investigators determined the guard deliberately placed the material in the rifle barrel.