“Buchanan – Imagine this: Terrorists break through wire-topped chain linked fences and concrete barriers around the wooded perimeter of the Indian Point nuclear power plants.
As they crouch, weave and shoot, the terrorists run into what plant owner Entergy says is a 360-degree field of fire from new defensive shooting towers. The cream-colored towers are about 25 feet tall. Made from steel, they’re Bullet Resistant Enclosures on stilts. And according to Entergy, they’re just one more post-Sept. 11, 2001, security measure designed to stop a terrorist in his tracks.
“But it’s a joke,” says one veteran Indian Point security officer who, like a dozen others interviewed for this story, wouldn’t be identified for fear of getting fired.
“These boxes,” says the security guard, “are designed to take one .308-caliber bullet, but the second .308 fired at the same spot goes in and kills you. This is a turkey shoot, and we’re the turkeys.”
“Sitting ducks” might be a more apt term, according to the guards, who say the towers cause more problems than they solve. A recent discussion with several guards revealed the following troubles with the towers:
-If a guard is forced to evacuate the tower, he’d be an open target for terrorists, the guards say, and they don’t have enough ammunition to hold out for long. “The only way out is by an outdoor catwalk they could pick you off of,” says a guard, “and they only give you three magazines of ammo [about 90 bullets] so what happens if you run out? Do you think you can tell the terrorists, ‘oh wait, I have to send for ammo from the ammo locker inside the plant and reload?’ “
-The towers can’t stop armored piercing rounds or rocket propelled grenades, both favorite weapons of the type of terrorists the FBI has warned nuclear power plants to expect.
-An internal complaint filed last year by a security guard warned that the towers don’t have unobstructed views of the property perimeter.
-Green mold has been found growing inside the uninsulated steel structures.
-In the cold weather, conditions in the towers are nearly unbearable because of inadequate heating that has left “ice on the door frames from the cold,” a guard says.
-Even if the physical trouble with the towers could be repaired, guards say they haven’t been trained to shoot down at an angle.
The towers are part of the changes plant owner Entergy has made on the 200-plus-acre compound to make it look impregnable, say the guards.
“They tried to make it look like Sing-Sing with all the concertina wire and towers,” one guard says.
These are some of the latest complaints to surface since suspended security guard Foster Zeh went public Dec. 10 with a barrage of criticisms about poor training and outdated equipment. His revelations followed Entergy’s own internal survey of guards that found many of them didn’t think the plant could be defended.
The complaints also dovetail with a report commissioned by Gov. George Pataki. That report was critical of Indian Point’s evacuation plans and, taken with the earlier revelations, has led everyone from political leaders to grassroots organizers to call for the plant’s shutdown.
Entergy officials dismiss some of the latest criticisms as typical disgruntled employee comments. They say these are frequent now that Entergy is thinking about combining its two reactor forces. Each has its own union.
Entergy security superintendent Terrence Barry says Entergy is simply following security standards from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Those standards will be heavily revised this spring to include, for the first time, defense against as many as 12 or 13 attackers armed with automatic weapons, including grenades and rockets, at multiple entry points.
Barry chalks up many of the complaints to “legacy issues” Entergy inherited from previous plant owners.
“As you peel back the skin of the onion, it’s going to stink,” Barry says of the inherited problems. “But we’re not hiding anything, we’re bringing everything to the table and fixing it.”
The guards, though, are bringing other complaints to the table:
-Guards say two of the random, continuous perimeter patrol vehicles were in such bad shape that the seat adjustment levers no longer worked and guards had to sit up straight or they couldn’t see over the steering wheel. Tire treads were showing right through the tires, too, and once, “the front axle assembly dropped out,” said a guard. The vehicles are being repaired.
-A mass of bug larvae was found under the floor in the Indian Point 2 unit’s central alarm station. The bugs have since been cleaned.
As for the mold, that’s true, says Barry, but it was cleaned up, and is monitored. Ceramic heaters have been installed to supplement the heaters already in the towers.
Plus, Barry says the towers are meant to be just one part of a complex, in-depth grid of fences, barriers and checkpoints.
“That’s a crock,” says a guard, “if they attacked today we’d be toast.”
Entergy security chief Rich Goodrich says the criticism about downward angle shooting from the towers is on target. That’s a recognized training need that’s being addressed, he said.
Barry flatly denies, though, that the guards would ever run out of ammunition.
The guard who made the charge remains skeptical.
“Yeah? Well, I when I asked my supervisor what happens when I run out, he said, ‘go find a building and hide.’ ““
This article originally appeared in the Times Herald-Record