Calvert Cliffs nuclear plant security faulted

Federal nuclear safety inspectors found unspecified "security deficiencies" at the Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant in southern Maryland earlier this year, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission disclosed Wednesday.

NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan said the agency could not reveal the nature of the problem or discuss why it had conducted a special inspection of the plant from Jan. 26 through July 13. The five-member commission has refused since the 2001 terrorist attacks to release information about security, out of concern it might help people or groups seeking to attack or sabotage a nuclear plant, the agency spokesman said.

But the finding was deemed of "at least low to moderate significance" and further NRC scrutiny may be warranted, Sheehan said in an email. Constellation Energy Nuclear Group operates the twin-reactor plant on the Chesapeake Bay in Lusby, about 70 miles south of Baltimore.

Constellation spokesman Dave Fitz noted that the deficiencies found during the inspection were promptly corrected and said that the plant was "in compliance with applicable physical protection and security requirements" before the inspectors left.

But in a letter to Constellation, the NRC's reactor safety director, Christopher G. Miller, said the inspectors' finding suggested a broader failure by plant management to get staff to follow prescribed procedures. He said the agency was not citing the company for a safety violation until it had made a final determination, and he gave Constellation 30 days to challenge the finding, either in a face-to-face conference or in writing.

David Lochbaum, a nuclear engineer with the Union of Concerned Scientists, said it was rare but not unheard of for inspectors to find security problems when checking plants. He noted that deficiencies of comparable seriousness were found in six of 121 security inspections last year, according to the NRC's annual report to Congress.

This was the second special NRC inspection of Calvert Cliffs in two years. Last year inspectors pored over the facility after rain and melting snow leaked through the roof, dripping onto electrical equipment and causing both reactors to automatically shut down.

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