NRC considers NFS enforcement action over missing weapon

By Kathy Helms-Hughes
STAR STAFF
khughes@starhq.com

   The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is considering possible enforcement action against Nuclear Fuel Services Inc. in Erwin stemming from NFS's failure to notify the federal agency that it had found a firearm missing during a weapons inventory in January.
   Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., in a June letter to the NRC, posed several questions concerning inspection and security of firearms used by guard forces at NRC-licensed facilities and referred to an anonymous letter which claimed that security personnel weapons were not properly accounted for at NFS.
   NRC Chairman Richard Meserve responded to Markey's questions, stating that the NRC staff first received the anonymous allegations in January and completed follow-up inspections on May 8.
   According to the Meserve, "No formal notification was made to the NRC by NFS. The licensee made a determination that its security plan did not require reporting the lost weapon to the NRC. However, the allegation follow-up inspections by NRC staff determined that loss of this weapon should have been reported to the NRC. The NRC staff is reviewing NFS's failure to report the lost weapon and considering possible enforcement action."
   NFS spokesman Tony Treadway confirmed Friday that the handgun was discovered missing from its security force's weapons storage area in January and that it "was apparently stolen. The investigation into the matter is continuing. The Unicoi County Sheriff's Department is assisting in the investigation."
   Treadway said that while the NRC is reviewing the issue as a matter of non-compliance by NFS to the agency's reporting requirements, "NFS has not received any written notice of non-compliance from the NRC on this matter. Based on a review of NRC regulations in January, NFS believes there was no requirement to report the incident to the regulatory agency."
   According to the NRC, during the NFS weapons inventory, several weapons were found missing, however, they were later located with the exception of one. "In this instance, the weapon was not in the locker where it was supposed to be stored. The licensee has investigated this situation, including a search of the site, and has concluded that the weapon was removed from the site (potentially by theft)."
   Markey questioned whether workers who ceased employment at NFS continued to possess their firearms for more than a year and how many had done so in the last five years.
   Meserve said, "It has been asserted that three former NFS employees continued to possess their weapons after no longer being employed by NFS. NRC has determined that this statement is inaccurate."
   According to the NRC chairman, a weapon assigned to an employee who was terminated more than two years ago was maintained in an NFS security controlled/locked container on site and did not remain in the employee's possession following termination of employment.
   The weapon of another employee who left NFS was returned to the licensee immediately following his release from NFS, and an NFS employee not on active duty due to disability maintained possession of his weapon in hope of returning to active duty. However, the employee returned his weapon in January when it was determined that he would not return to active duty in the near future.
   Meserve said firearms owned by NFS are private company property subject to NRC regulation on site and local laws off site. "The NFS security plan, which has been reviewed and approved by the NRC, addresses inventory and tracking of licensee-controlled weapons. NFS is required by NRC regulations to comply with its security plan," he said. The security plan is classified.
   Rep. Markey asked NRC to provide a list of all firearms reported missing or stolen from NRC-licensed facilities in the last five years, and to verify whether they were actually lost or stolen and whether NRC had imposed any penalties on the licensee.
   Meserve said that in addition to the missing firearm at NFS, the NRC received five reports from power reactors involving missing weapons: Cooper, on Aug. 8, 1997; Palo Verde, Sept. 14, 1997; Arkansas Nuclear One, Nov. 24, 1998; Ginna, Dec. 24, 2001; and Diablo Canyon, March 18, 2001.
   "All of these weapons were accounted for within a short period of time. No penalties were imposed in any of the above cases because the loss of the weapons were reported in accordance with NRC regulations and the licensees implemented appropriate corrective actions," Meserve said.
   The NFS security plan requires periodic inventory and functionality inspections of weapons, according to the NRC, which last performed an inspection of NFS records in June and found they were being maintained appropriately.