TVA to eliminate handguns from nuclear power plant security
Security officers at TVA nuclear power plants will soon be prohibited from carrying handguns as sidearms for a primary weapon, a change that one senior nuclear officer at the Watts Bar plant says could make officers more vulnerable.
But TVA and other nuclear plant managers insist the industry is moving to better weaponry and safety systems to protect America’s 99 operating nuclear reactors from terrorists or other attacks.
The Tennessee Valley Authority, which operates seven nuclear reactors in Tennessee and Alabama, plans to phase out by the end of the year handguns now carried by security officers at the Sequoyah, Watts Bar and Browns Ferry nuclear plants. The TVA plants are among 96 reactors nationwide where armed guards are moving to higher-powered weapons to secure nuclear plants.
The changes are being made after an industry-wide safety review of plants conducted by the chief security officers for most nuclear plants. Although TVA and other nuclear operators declined to discuss specifics of the changes being made for security reasons, they insist that what changes are being made are designed to make the plants and their employees safer.
“Security officers will still be armed appropriately in accordance with their protective strategy,” said Sue Perkins-Grew, the senior director of security and incident preparedness for the Nuclear Energy Institute, a trade group for the nuclear power industry. “Since the 9/11, our nuclear plants are even more secure and safer today on the strength of more than $2 billion in additional security investment. That includes substantial physical enhancements, hiring of thousands of additional highly trained security officers, procurement of more sophisticated access systems, adding more diverse and multiple weapons and close coordination with local, state and federal law enforcement and intelligence experts.”
But Paul Tackett, a senior nuclear security officer at TVA’s Watts Bar Nuclear Power Plant, told WRCB-TV this week that he is concerned about handguns being removed from officers under the new policy.
“Anything is possible to happen at anytime,” Tackett told WRCB-TV. “It was just a few years ago when we had an officer shot at out here.”
By Aug. 15, Tackett said he will have to give up his firearm.
“Everyone I talk to over there says the same thing, I mean, they’re just like me, saying what are we going to do if something happens?” he said.
But TVA spokesman Scott Fiedler said the changes will not endanger employees or the public and are designed to enhance plant security.
“The safety and security of our nuclear plants, personnel and the public are TVA’s top priority,” Fiedler said, declining to discuss the specifics of the changes in the weapons to be used at the plant or other safety measures used to limit the risk of an attack at a nuclear plant. “We continually work with the nuclear industry to evaluate processes and procedures to determine the value they add to the safe, secure operations of the nation’s nuclear plants.”
Nuclear industry officials also declined to give details about the weapon changes at nuclear plant security staff, but Nuclear Energy Institute Senior Communications Manager John Keeley said the changes being made last year and this year at most nuclear plants should upgrade security and better align resources with the most likely threats to plant security.