The security union says the plant is trying to save money after $80,000 was spent on upgrades. But threats of terrorism still exist.
By Joe Walker firstname.lastname@example.org
DOE officials say there is no security downgrade, but they are keeping their options open.
"They spent over $80,000 putting equipment in and around the plant to upgrade security and now, all of a sudden, they're going to abandon that idea," said Mike Kaufman, vice president of 34-member Local 111 of Security Police and Fire Professionals of America. "We feel like this is strictly a cost-savings situation. We're very upset with that."
Since Sept. 11, the plant has been at heightened security with increased perimeter patrols and a new guard post on the main plant road. All other ways of entering and leaving the plant have been cut off.
Kaufman said union leaders confirmed Tuesday through local DOE officials that the plant would relax those measures at an unspecified time. DOE Paducah Site Manager Don Seaborg referred questions to lead contractor Bechtel Jacobs, which referred the matter to DOE's Oak Ridge, Tenn., office.
"DOE has not downgraded security at the Paducah site since Sept. 11," said Walter Perry, Energy Department spokesman in Oak Ridge. "But we are always reviewing our security posture."
The Energy Department announced in January that it was doubling annual spending at the plant to nearly $5 million because of the terrorism. Much of the expense was in labor costs for staffing additional posts and increasing security checks. Other costs were for installing barriers and evaluating protection required by the upgrade.
Kaufman said downgraded security will mean "eight to 10 fewer" new officers than had been expected. Eliminating 10 hirings would save $350,000 at an average wage of $35,000, he said.
DOE shares security costs with USEC Inc., which leases the plant from the government. The company acknowledged in January that it had increased security spending, but wouldn't say how much.
USEC spokeswoman Elizabeth Stuckle said Tuesday that the "proposal" to discontinue the post on the plant's main drive was made by the Energy Department and Bechtel Jacobs.
"We did not initiate this," she said. "We are taking it under consideration."
Perry said there are no expected cuts in hirings because there is no downgraded security. "We are always, however, looking at ways to maintain a cost-effective security posture."
In light of Sept. 11, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has been reviewing security at plants nationwide. Jan Strasma, Chicago-based NRC spokesman, said the commission has ordered nuclear power plants to formalize measures taken because of the terrorism. Nuclear fuel facilities such as the Paducah plant are still being assessed, he said.
Local 111 President Jay Stoll said he was told by an NRC official, whom he would not name, that the agency was "sensitive" to USEC's costs. "You can take it for what it's worth, but as far as I'm concerned, they're negotiating security and the cost of security," he said.
Strasma said the commission does consider costs. "Whether it's safety or security, we are not oblivious to what the costs are. There is not a total disregard for the cost of that (heightened security) requirement."
Stuckle also took issue with Stoll, saying, "USEC will operate as efficiently as possible, always assuring that safety and security are maintained. We will not sacrifice security for cost issues."
In recent years, USEC has taken many cost-cutting measures to try to be more competitive, notably laying off hundreds of Paducah plant workers and closing Paducah's sister plant in Ohio.
Security officers have been working without a contract since March, when they rejected a new five-year offer because of wages and other issues. Kaufman said there has been no bargaining since then and no talks are planned.