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Prudent precautions?

NRC defends beefed-up security for public meetings

BRATTLEBORO—The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission estimates it paid $970 for the Brattleboro Police Department to assist with security at its open house and question-and-answer session regarding Vermont Yankee on April 30.

The money went for six officers and a supervising sergeant, said spokesperson Neil Sheehan.

NRC in-house security personnel and two firefighters also were detailed to the event, held at the Brattleboro Union High School.

The commission also paid $450 to have two firefighters on hand as “fire watchers,” said Chief Michael Bucossi.

“We’re not part of security, it’s more for fire protection,” Bucossi said.

The high school requires that events sponsored by outside groups pay for firefighters to attend. They enforce fire ordinances and monitor room capacity, said Bucossi.

The NRC, the federal agency charged with regulating the nuclear industry, holds open houses and question-and-answer events annually in communities hosting nuclear plants.

The April 30 session started with a protest a witness described as a Shut it Down affinity group’s “conga line” around the room. As the meeting started, protestors marched to the front of the room to stand behind the NRC panelists — a no-no in the NRC’s rulebook — and quote from a recent New York Times interview with former NRC Chairman Gregory B. Jaczko.

At that, the NRC panelists left the room and waited in the hallway until protestors finished their statement, which challenged assertions that nuclear power plants around the United States, and Vermont Yankee in particular, are safe.

During a similar public meeting in 2012, protestors briefly controlled the public meeting. NRC staff exited the meeting when protesters stood behind the panelists and shouted down the moderator. Some audience members darted through a fire door as NRC plain-clothed security moved to lock down the BUHS multi-purpose room.

According to Sheehan, the NRC security department coordinates with local police and fire departments to staff public meetings expected to have large attendance, or “high interest.”

Public meetings near Vernon’s Vermont Yankee, the 41-year-old 650 megawatt nuclear plant owned by Entergy Corp., are not the only meetings requiring security.

According to Sheehan, the NRC calls in security for other meetings near plants, such as near Entergy’s Indian Point Energy Center in Buchanan, N.Y., and Exelon’s Oyster Creek Generating Station in Forked River, N.J.

Sheehan said he did not have averages for the number of local police and fire personnel at public meetings. Each meeting is different with different needs, he said.

“We believe it’s prudent to have a security presence that is reflective of the size of attendance,” he said.

Sheehan said the NRC felt the security presence at public meetings is “prudent” in a “post-9/11” and “post-Boston Marathon” [bombings] culture.

“We’re doing this for the sake of the NRC staff and members of the public,” said Sheehan.

According to Sheehan, Brattleboro meetings warrant this security concern also in the wake of a 2009 anti-nuclear protest, in which a protester threw compost — or “spent food,” as she called it — at NRC staff.

Sheehan said he did not know of any staff members being hurt physically at a meeting in Brattleboro, adding that the commission tries to keep the security presence visible, but unobtrusive, for members of the public attending the meetings.

The security presence is not intended to intimidate audience members, said Sheehan. He added that the commission encourages and welcomes public participation.

Calls to the Brattleboro police were not returned by press time.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #202 (Wednesday, May 8, 2013).

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