Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Summer Intern Program or National Security Risk?

Here at NEI, one of my colleagues came across a set of correspondence in the NRC's Adams database that was disturbing to say the least. Apparently, ABC News has been using reporter interns in an attempt to breach security at Test, Research and Training Reactors around the country.

In a July 27, 2005 letter to the NRC, Tawfik Raby and Seymour Weiss, co-chairs of the National Organization of Test, Research and Training Reactors, wrote the following to David B. Matthews, Director of the Division of Regulatory Improvement Programs in NRC's Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation (click here for PDF of original letter):

Members of TRTR have identified to the NRC and law enforcement agencies the suspicious behavior of individuals who were visiting their facilities. NRC informed TRTR that these visits may have been part of a summer intern program that ABC News and other corporations were conducting related to investigative reporting.

TRTR believes that the security measures currently in place have worked and that the public health and safety have not been compromised. The research reactor community picked up on the recurrent visits by these individuals and their unusual interest in security matters very rapidly and acted accordingly.

One of the primary missions of these facilities is to inform and educate members of the public on nuclear technology matters, including school children and others. Public tours are a great asset to the community and the nation and should be continued in a prudent way. We are convinced that the TRTRs are safe and secure; however, we have urged each of our facilities to continue to be diligent and vigilant in admitting visitors and conducting tours.
In response, Matthews wrote the following (click here for the PDF):
Based on previous reporting and followup discussions with individual licensees, it is our understanding that these individuals did not identify themselves as intern reporters and requested tours of the facilities. In addition, at some facilities they asked numerous questions on security matters and may have been filming the tours in a covert manner. Soon after the first notification of such a visit, the NRC informed all RTR licensees of the unusual and suspicious behavior of these individuals, to anticipate such visits, and to notify law enforcement agencies and the NRC in accordance with the NRC's advisory on suspicious activities. Through prompt coordination with law enforcement, it was determined that these visits were part of a "Summer Fellows" intern investigative reporter program in conjunction with ABC News. The NRC understands that no safeguards information was available or revealed during any of these incidents.

The NRC has previously conducted comprehensive evaluations of RTR security plans, procedures, systems, and response, which included consideration of potential challenges presented by publicly-available tours and information. As a result of these earlier evaluations, the NRC concluded that RTR security continued to provide adequate protection of public health and safety. This conclusion is consistent with the findings summarized in your letter. The NRC will continue to provide oversight of RTR licensees through evaluations of safety and security at licensed facilities.

The NRC welcomes news inquiries. It is important to note that under the access authorization process for research reactors, the access afforded the Summer Fellows was the same as they would have received had they identified themselves as reporters. The NRC continues to believe that trying to gain access to reactor facilities under potentially suspicious circumstances, especially in the current threat environment, creates unnecessary concerns, diverts limited resources, and inappropriately distracts from high priority law enforcement activities.
For some people, it might be easy to forget that Americans are under threat from terrorism, but not the nuclear industry. Security of nuclear facilities is serious business. It isn't a game, and ABC News ought to know better.

Back in June, two reporters from Time tried to breach the security at both North Anna and Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plants. In both cases, the reporters were turned away at the first checkpoint, the first line in concentric circles of security around nuclear power facilities.

UPDATE: When you use the Adams database, links expire after a couple of hours. So when you search for the docs yourself, remember to enter ML052100387 as the document number.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Click here for a description of the ABC News Summer Intern program with Brian Ross' investigative unit:
Student interns will receive training in New York at ABC News headquarters for the first two weeks of the program. They will be trained in ABC News ethics and procedures and on new digital equipment that permits both taping and editing of news material. The Corporation will purchase the equipment for each student and donate it to the schools at the end of the summer. Students will do significant research for the investigative unit and some students will be asked to travel for the story.
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3 comments:

Don Kosloff said...

The "news" agencies involved were performing criminal acts which the NRC was required to refer to the FBI or another appropriate law enforcement agency.

Ignorance of the law may be a weak excuse for the interns. But the ny times "reporters" and the supervisors of the interns surely knew that they were engaged in a criminal conspiracy.

Don Kosloff said...

The links to the pdf files of the letters to and from the NRC don't work. When a link to ADAMS is made, it will expire after a short time.

Don Kosloff said...

CORRECTION

In the second paragraph of my first comment I referred to the anti-nuclear power tabloid the "ny times". I should have referred instead to the anti-American tabloid, time "magazine".