Troubled computer systems, failed drills and even guards falling asleep on the job, those are not the type of allegations you want to hear about security at a nuclear power plant. But several current and former security guards at Indian Point nuclear plant in Westchester County say those are exactly some of the problems the plant is facing.
Fox 5 News interviewed five current and former security guards of Indian Point, and all of them offered disturbing details about security at the plant that seems, at best, lax and, at worst, potentially deadly. Fox 5 News protected the identities of the current employees it interviewed.
"Is the plant safe?" Fox 5's Ben Simmoneau asked one current security employee.
"Sometimes," was his response. "Sometimes."
Skip Travis and Jason Hettler are both former security lieutenants at Indian Point who are now suing the plant's owner, Entergy. Tom Nicolosi, a third former lieutenant, is considering a lawsuit. They all say security is a mess, yet they say they were punished for raising concerns. Hettler quit after being put on leave without pay. Travis and Nicolosi were fired.
"Based upon what you know about the security of this plant, should it be allowed to continue operating?" Simmoneau asked Hettler.
"Absolutely not," he said.
"I think people need to know. People need to know how serious this is," Nicolosi told us.
"It doesn't get any more serious in regards to security," Travis said.
Jerry Nappi, an Indian Point spokesman, would not comment on the terms which led to the departures of Hettler, Nicolosi or Travis, but he did say the plant is safe.
"I can't speak to any individual who works here and their personnel, individual personnel issues," he said. "We encourage employees to raise issues … Security at Indian Point is very robust. The company has spent more than $100 million just at this site in the last several years to enhance security."
One of those investments was a new computer system which controls alarms and cameras in the area around the reactors. But the lawsuits say that system was plagued by false alarms and has crashed hundreds of times. Fox 5's sources claim it can take a few minutes or several hours to restore, which they say can cut off alarms and some cameras.
"The system did initially have some challenges but since those have been worked out, it's worked very well," Nappi said.
Fox 5 obtained an internal Nuclear Regulatory Commission document which shows that Entergy was cited for the crashes, and for failure to track, trend and correct the computer malfunctions.
"Those initial problems were worked out, and security was never compromised," Nappi said.
"But were the problems only worked out when the NRC slapped the company's hand?" Simmoneau asked.
"The computer system is, again, very sophisticated," Nappi responded.
"Why would they write that, though, that Entergy failed to 'track' and 'correct' the problem?" Simmoneau asked again.
"Well, initially because there were challenges," Nappi said.
Another complaint in one of the lawsuits is that Indian Point has falsified records submitted to the NRC showing how many hours guards work.
"The facility is understaffed in security officer ranks and even more in security supervisory ranks," said one of the current employees.
Nappi, the plant spokesman, said the company has hired more guards and any mistakes were accidental. But security guards say they were routinely asked to work long hours, in some cases 24 hours straight. And over the summer, sources say three guards were even caught sleeping on the job.
"I'm not aware of those specific concerns," Nappi said referring to the allegations of sleeping.
"Does it happen here, where guards are found sleeping on the job?" Simmoneau asked.
"There have been a couple of issues over the last 10 years that I'm aware of," Nappi said. "If that is the case, it's dealt with as a personnel matter."
Perhaps most concerning, our sources say the security force at Indian Point often fails practice drills, which simulate a terrorist attack.
The company says that is not true; the plant passes all the drills graded by the NRC.
"It would be funny if it wasn't so scary," said Phillip Musegaas, the Hudson River Program Director at Riverkeeper, a nonprofit organization focused on keeping the Hudson River clean. Riverkeeper has long argued for Indian Point to be closed, over both environmental and security concerns.
"This is Keystone Cops at its worst," he said.
Then there is a more obvious concern for Riverkeeper: what the organization says is Indian Point's vulnerable position on the river's edge. Anyone with a boat can go just a few hundred yards from the plant.
"There is absolutely nothing on the water to stop a water-based attack," Musegaas said.
All the problems apparently have added up for Indian Point. A federal report issued last month shows since 2000, Indian Point has been issued more violations by the NRC than any other nuclear plant in the country.
"Those are not high-level concerns or safety issues at a significant level," Nappi said. "We are judged a safe and secure plant."
But some of the former security guards see it differently.
"With absolute certainty, I believe Indian Point should be closed, forever," Travis said.
Fox 5 News asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to respond to the allegations, but an official wouldn't talk on camera. Instead, the NRC issued a statement saying security at nuclear plants has been enhanced since September 11, and security at Indian Point is appropriate to protect the public.