A highly trained group of armed officers are taking on their toughest foes yet: a major utility and the "War on Terror." They're the anonymous security guards at Progress Energy's Shearon Harris nuclear power plant in southern Wake County, who have gone to local and national watchdog groups and sounded an alarm that security at the plant is being compromised by supervisors more concerned about their budgets than safety.
They told stories of a broken lock on the entrance to a key portion of the plant that wasn't fixed even after the problem was reported. They talked about being discouraged from reporting injuries, cheat sheets being handed out with security certification tests, security logs that were faked and orders not to search vehicles when it was taking too long. And they told of security threats: Tracer bullets fired at a guard and sabotage at the company's Brunswick plant outside Wilmington.
Progress Energy's immediate response was to start an investigation into the whistle blowers. A company spokesman said the complaints were nothing new but were being looked into--which raises the question of what happened when they were reported the first time. The NRC told the complainants it wasn't certain whether all the problems had been fixed.
And yet, there has been no response from local leaders concerned that our safety might be threatened. Could it be because Progress Energy is Raleigh's largest and most prominent corporate headquarters? If money and politics are tempering their reaction, how does that make them any different from the Bush administration, for whom the War on Terrorism is too often just a political mantra to justify invading Iraq, eavesdropping on U.S. citizens without telling a judge, and pushing a PATRIOT Act that tramples civil liberties?
Let us be clear here: We are talking about not fixing doors that would allow intruders easy access to critical parts of a nuclear reactor, inducing applicants for guard jobs at the plant to cheat in order to get certified, telling guards to work when they're injured, and not searching vehicles going into a place with one of the largest collections of tightly packed spent nuclear fuel rods in the country.
It's part of a pattern of putting corporate interests ahead of real security and seeing the War on Terror more in political terms than as a real threat. A Washington Post article last week told how former Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge and EPA head Christine Todd Whitman wanted to tighten security at high-risk chemical plants, only to be thwarted by Karl Rove, who sided with industry leaders who opposed it.
A year before Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, the Indy detailed how politics was compromising disaster planning at FEMA. I pray we aren't reminding people after an attack at Shearon Harris about how money and politics compromised security there.