Legislation sponsored by Yager would give security officers at Tennessee’s Category I nuclear power plants authority to use deadly force in cases of severe threats of sabotage

(NASHVILLE, TN), March 1, 2012 – Legislation that gives security officers at Tennessee’s two Category 1 nuclear power plants the authority to use deadly force to prevent an act of radioactive sabotage was approved by a vote of 32 to 0 today.  The bill, sponsored by Senator Ken Yager (R-Harriman), would effect officers at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) Watts Bar Power Plant in Rhea County and the Sequoyah Power Plant in Hamilton County.

“It is critically important that the scope of authority for nuclear facility security officers is clearly spelled out in state law,” said Senator Yager.   “There should be no uncertainty as to whether they have the authority to effectively defend the public as well as themselves, against acts of radioactive sabotage.”

Dr. Mark Finley, General Manager of Nuclear Security at TVA, told lawmakers that officers at Watts Bar and Sequoyah are currently operating under the Castle Doctrine.   The Castle Doctrine is a self-defense provision that allows for the use of force, including deadly force, when threatened within one’s home.  Finley said Senate Bill 2651 expands beyond that law, due to the safety implications to the public posed by threats of radioactive sabotage. He explained that there are a wide range of responses that plant security officers would use upon being faced with a threat, with deadly force being used as the last resort. 

“This would clarify the regulations that they have to operate under and how they can use a continuum of force,” said Finley.  “The bill would also identify the nuances that have been in place since 9-11, the sophistication of the adversaries, or the bad guys that would attempt to gain entry into our facilities.  This identifies the different techniques that they use, how specialized they are and how concealing they are.”

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) prescribes stringent qualifications and training for nuclear security officers.  The facilities have a security plan that is regulated and inspected by the NRC every year.  TVA also has a nuclear facility training program for the officers which is part of the plan approved and inspected by the NRC annually. 

Finley said the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has categorized nuclear power sites across the nation as a very hard target after the 9-11 terrorist attacks.  He said that although there was a move to federalize nuclear facility security officers after 9-11, the NRC and Congress opted not to adopt that course of action.

“State law needs to mirror the course of action that is recommended by the highly trained federal experts on this matter,”added Yager. “This new law would give our security personnel at these facilities the tools and the authority to do their job and protect the public.”
 
Similar legislation has been approved in Alabama, Arizona, New Jersey, New York and Texas.

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