Trespass incident at Peach Bottom nuclear plant handled appropriately, Harford and federal officials say

Harford emergency services director says county was notified, situation was monitored

Emergency officials in Harford County, as well as federal nuclear regulators, say they are satisfied the security and staff at the Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station in Pennsylvania properly handled an incident Friday night in which a Virginia couple breached the plant's security perimeter.

Edward Hopkins, Harford County's emergency services director, said county Emergency Manager Rick Ayers received an email from plant officials the next morning, stating that the incident, which involved cutting a chain on the outer perimeter of the plant property, had been handled, and Pennsylvania State Police were called to the scene.

"As long as they make the notification to us that something has happened, we're satisfied that the situation has been handled," Hopkins said Tuesday.

The nuclear plant, which is owned by Exelon Generation and Public Service and Gas of New Jersey, is in southern York County, Pa., along the Susquehanna River about six miles from the Mason-Dixon Line that forms the boundary between Harford and York counties and about 21 miles from the center of Bel Air.

State and local emergency officials in Maryland and Pennsylvania train on various emergency scenarios at the plant on a regular basis. Northern Harford County is part of a 10-mile emergency planning zone around the plant in all directions.

Plant operators alert emergency officials in their neighboring community for all sorts of incidents, from minor issues such as a fall within the plant to a full-scale nuclear emergency, Hopkins said.

He recalled one alert that came to Harford County involving a deer getting caught in a fence on the property.

"They are pretty diligent in their notifications to us, making us aware of something that has happened and that the situation is being or has been handled," Hopkins said.

The notification sent to Ayers also went to the Maryland Emergency Management Agency and the Maryland Department of the Environment, according to Hopkins.

"They had the situation well under control, and the key thing for us was, there was no threat to the operations of the plant, to the security of the plant," he said.

Timothy Lee Stewart, 29, and Jenilee Jean Simpson, 33, both of Chesapeake, Va., were arrested by Pennsylvania State Police troopers Friday night after security staffers saw the couple enter the facility after Stewart allegedly cut a security chain, according to the York Daily Record.

The couple told police they were driving from Baltimore to New York City when they got lost traveling through York County.

As of Tuesday afternoon, both suspects were being held at the York County Prison, each on $100,000 bail, according to the prison's records department.

Stewart is charged with criminal trespassing and defiant trespassing, and Simpson is charged with criminal trespassing, defiant trespassing and possession of drug paraphernalia, according to prison officials.

"Security identified two individuals trespassing at Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station and promptly called the Pennsylvania State Police," Peach Bottom spokesperson Krista Merkel wrote in an email Tuesday. "There was no threat to safety or security at the station at any time."

Simpson and Stewart got through to the "owner-controlled" section of the plant property, but not as far as the "protected area," the location of secure facilities and radioactive materials, according Diane Screnci, spokesperson for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's Region 1, which covers the northeastern U.S.

"They did not cross into the protected area, and it's more secure in the protected area," she said.

Two NRC inspectors are assigned to each nuclear power plant in the United States, and they work on-site. The inspectors assigned to Peach Bottom determined the "response was appropriate," Screnci said.

"There was no danger to the public or the plant from what happened," she said.

County and state officials on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line participate in "federally-graded" exercises every two years, involving representatives of a slew of agencies in the affected communities, Hopkins said.

The Federal Emergency Management Administration monitors the exercises, the most recent of which was in April.

"We were very successful and passed that exercise," Hopkins said.

A semi-annual test of 97 emergency sirens in the 10-mile emergency planning zone is scheduled for 1 p.m. Wednesday, according to a news release from Peach Bottom's Merkel.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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