The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky
Saturday, September 06, 2003

USEC faces federal fines over guards weapons
The larger fine was for accidental discharge upon turning in a firearm.

By Bill Bartleman

USEC Inc. has until Sept. 28 to decide whether to pay a $41,250 penalty imposed by the U.S. Department of Energy for violations of security and safety rules at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant.

The monetary penalty is for two of four violations cited by DOE in a letter USEC received this week.

USEC leases the uranium enrichment plant from DOE and provides security for the plant and DOE facilities that surround it.

All of the violations stem from an investigation of a Dec. 2, 2002, incident in which a plant guard accidentally discharged a firearm while turning it in at the end of a work shift. Regulations require that guns be empty when turned in by removing the ammunition magazine or discharging the gun into a special bullet containment device.

The DOE notice of violation stated that investigators "confirmed that during the turn-in of the handgun, the magazine was not removed from the weapon while still in the holster and the weapon was accidentally discharged outside of the bullet containment device." The bullet went into a wall. No one was injured.

DOE cited evidence that some guards were not following written procedures for handling guns and that they were not properly supervised to ensure safety.

DOE said it was a Level I violation, the most serious of three levels, for which a fine of $10,000 to $50,000 could be imposed. Stating that the incident represented a significant safety breach, DOE imposed a $30,000 fine.

The second finding was that a Level II violation occurred for not conducting a risk analysis for use of the Glock .40-caliber weapons that guards began using early in 2002. Fines for Level II violations range from $5,000 to $20,000. DOE imposed a penalty of $11,250.

DOE also found two Level III violations in paperwork and procedures. No financial penalty was imposed.

USEC has changed policies and procedures to prevent future incidents, said spokeswoman Elizabeth Stuckle. The changes include additional training, technical changes in written procedures and a new bullet containment device.

Stuckle said the female guard who discharged the firearm "was severely disciplined," but Stuckle did not know the extent of the punishment. "Unrelated to the event, the individual has taken advantage of an early retirement incentive program," Stuckle said. "She is no longer an employee at the plant."

The plant has 106 security personnel, a threefold increase from the number of guards prior to the national terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.