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Sabotage suspected
Officials: PP&L probe lacks proof generator knob was tampered with

Press Enterprise Writer

BELL BEND - A private investigator hired by Pennsylvania Power & Light believes someone sabotaged one of the Susquehanna nuclear power plant's backup generators three months ago.

But the investigator found no proof and was unable to learn who did it, so his official finding is "not conclusive," say federal regulators and a PP&L executive.

If he had found evidence, it would have marked the first case of equipment tampering by an employee at Susquehanna.

But as it stands now, the incident probably won't appear on a list of confirmed cases of equipment tampering by employees of commercial nuclear reactors, said a Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) official and an industry watchdog.

NRC and PP&L refused to release the investigator's final report or identify him. They say that information is classified and divulging it would endanger plant security, violate employee confidentiality and jeopardize an ongoing investigation.

Yet, the private eye, a former NRC investigator hired by PP&L's corporate auditing department, has finished his probe.

Meanwhile, the alleged saboteur may still be roaming the powerplant and collecting a PP&L pay-check while managers and the NRC continue to hunt for a cause.

Ken Jenison, an NRC inspector stationed at Susquehanna, said his agency will issue its own final report eventually, but its probe is still only "about a third" complete.

So far, the NRC has let the electric company take the lead in the investigation and has only been reviewing PP&L's progress. Jenison refused to say what the NRC is doing now, saying the work is still "in process."

It was Jenison who discovered a fuel knob on one of the plant's five emergency diesel generators was turned down during a routine inspection on July 11.

Instead of producing electricity at full power during a blackout, it was set to provide only one-third of the juice needed to run the plant's cooling system. The generators are in an area where access is limited to employees with special computerized cards.

Two previous probes by plant managers and an expert hired by the company eliminated vibration and other mechanical and electrical causes as the reason. Both inquiries and interviews with about 100 workers were unable to determine if someone turned the knob on purpose or by mistake.
PP&L left that task to the private investigator, but the NRC has not requested a copy of his final report, Jenison said.

If the agency had received a copy of it, the report might have become a public record.

Instead, Cliff Anderson, the NRC's branch chief for reactor projects, had to drive from King of Prussia to PP&L's corporate headquarters in Allentown to review the report.

"The private investigator's finding was that be couldn't make an absolute determination," Anderson said.

He later admitted the report includes the investigator's expert "opinions" about the case, but said they were "hypothetical comments without anything to really support it."

He refused to say what the investigator's opinion was, claiming only PP&L could disclose it.

Herb Woodeshick, special assistant to PP&L's president, initially said he wouldn't release that information because "We're just not at the end of the investigation."

He also said, "It's still a potential tampering situation or someone moved it in error."

However, he called back two hours later, saying, "I'd like to put this whole thing in perspective."

After explaining the company's efforts to investigate the incident, he said it was the investigator's opinion, "based on circumstantial evidence, that intentional tampering was the most likely cause."

Woodeshick said management is assuming that's the case and is continuing to investigate, but wouldn't say how.

A tamper-resistant paint and a protective covering has since been placed on the governor knobs on all five backup generators. The plant has also beefed up internal security since the incident.

Neither Woodeshick nor NRC officials would specify what other precautions have been taken.

"If everyone knows what the security is, it doesn't make it very secure," said Diane Screnci, an NRC spokeswoman.

The NRC's reluctance to release information or acknowledge tampering is "just true to form on how the NRC does business," said David Lochbaum, a former whistle blower at Susquehanna.

Lochbaum, now a nuclear safety engineer for the Union of Concerned Scientists, an industry watchdog group, said, "My gut opinion is that if it wasn't tampering, they would have volunteered that."

He also said the private investigator’s opinion should not be dismissed, but probably will be. The incident, like several other alleged tampering cases Lochbaum knows of, falls "in the gray area" and can't be proven.

And because of that, "it probably would not appear in the NRC's list of confirmed tampering cases, said Loren Bush, the agency’s senior program manager for plant safeguards in Washington, D.C.

NRC records show there have been at least 17 cases of tampering confirmed at the nation's 110 commercial reactors since 1990, including six last year.

Saturday, October 4, 1997