03 November 2007

Nuclear Power Plant BOMB Mystery: No public information released! Arizona/AK

Arizona Nuclear Power Plant Off Lockdown After Security Alert

WINTERSBURG, Ariz. — Security officials at the nation's largest nuclear power plant detained a contract worker with a small, crude explosive device in the back of his pickup truck Friday, and investigators were searching his apartment, authorities said.

It didn't appear to be an act of terrorism, authorities said, but they were still trying to determine why the device was in the truck.

Click here for video at MyFoxPhoenix.com.

The worker was stopped at the entrance of the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station, about half a mile from the containment domes where the plant's nuclear material is stored, plant spokesman Jim McDonald said.

Security officials put the nuclear station on lockdown, prohibiting anyone from entering or leaving the facility. The lockdown was lifted a few hours later.

Authorities described the device as a six-inch capped explosive made of galvanized pipe that contained suspicious residue. Tom Mangan, a spokesman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said it was likely homemade.

"If this thing went off in the bed of the truck, it certainly would put a hole in it," Mangan said. "It was rather crude in construction, but it could certainly injure somebody."

Maricopa County Sheriff's Capt. Paul Chagolla said the pipe was not hidden in the truck. He said the worker normally drove a motorcycle to work but was in a truck Friday because of cool weather.

The man, whose identity was not released, was being interviewed and authorities were searching his apartment in Phoenix with his consent, but he but had not been arrested, Chagolla said.

"There's no information to indicate that there's domestic terrorism at hand," he said.

In Washington, the Department of Homeland Security also said there was no known terrorism link.

Sheriff's officials rendered the device safe, Chagolla said.

McDonald said the worker was a procurement engineer, responsible for evaluating equipment purchases for the plant. He wouldn't say which company employed the man, whom Chagolla described as about 60 years old and originally from South Carolina.

The worker had access to some protected areas of the plant, but not the reactor areas, McDonald said.

"Our security personnel acted cautiously and appropriately, demonstrating that our security process and procedures work as designed," Randy Edington, the chief nuclear officer for plant operator Arizona Public Service Co., said in a news release.

The detention was considered an "unusual event" — the lowest of four emergencies the plant can declare, said Jim Melfi, an inspector with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

There was no threat to the public, McDonald said.

Doug Walters, the senior director of security for the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry group, said Palo Verde's response was "exactly what you would expect it to be."

"We have a checkpoint for this reason," he said. "They were able to identify a suspicious item in the truck. I don't know what they could have done differently."

Everyone who has access to the plant must submit to a background check, McDonald said.

Workers must pass through two security checkpoints to get inside one of the plant's three containment domes, which house the radioactive material. One of the checkpoints includes an automated system that examines workers for the presence of bomb-making materials, McDonald said.

Palo Verde is the nation's largest nuclear power plant both in size and capacity. Located in Wintersburg about 50 miles west of downtown Phoenix, the plant supplies electricity to about 4 million customers in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and California.

Bomb mystery at Palo Verde

Ryan Randazzo and Allison Denny
The Arizona Republic
Nov. 3, 2007 12:00 AM

Sheriff's detectives continue to investigate how a pipe bomb got into a contract worker's pickup bed Friday, triggering a lockdown of Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station and trapping thousands of employees there for about seven hours.

Roger W. Hurd, 61, of Hartsville, S.C., said he was unaware of a pipe bomb in his maroon Ford when he was stopped by Arizona Public Service Co. security officials at the entrance of the nation's top-producing nuclear plant, sheriff's officials said.

APS security did not find more explosives after an extensive search of the plant and its grounds, located about 50 miles west of downtown Phoenix, eventually lifting the lockdown at about 3 p.m., the utility said,

The metal device was about 5 inches long and 1 1/2 inches in diameter, containing an explosive used in commercial fireworks, APS Chief Nuclear Officer Randy Edington said.

"It appears it would have done some damage in about a 20-foot radius to people and equipment," Edington said.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio said it could have blown up the truck.

Hurd was stopped at least one-third of a mile from the nuclear reactors, and several other security checks separated him from the units, including more armed guards and a device that senses explosives.

The search was prolonged because of the estimated 3,600 workers, many more than usual, who are on-site making plant repairs, Edington said.

Maricopa County sheriff's deputies found nothing connecting Hurd to the incident after a search of his Goodyear apartment, Arpaio said.

"We feel the person driving the truck, according to him and the investigation so far, didn't have anything to do with it," Arpaio said.

Hurd was not arrested but was held for questioning at the checkpoint before leading investigators to his apartment. Arpaio said he did not expect Hurd to face charges.

It does not appear Hurd is a terrorist, said Capt. Paul Chagolla, a sheriff's spokesman.

"No nexus with terrorism is in our investigation at this point,"
Chagolla said.

Arpaio said Hurd is a Navy veteran who served in the Vietnam War and normally drives a motorcycle to work but decided to drive his truck, which had been parked at his apartment complex for a week since he last drove it.

APS spokesman Mark Fallon said Hurd, an engineer, is among about 400 long-term contractors and has security clearance to access the plant without an escort.

The utility would not disclose Hurd's employer.

"A contract employee here gets the same sort of briefings, training and background screening that an APS employee would get," he said.

APS spokesman Jim McDonald said the screening includes an FBI-style background check.

Time gaps

Officials gave different accounts of the time the pipe bomb was discovered and the time the plant was shut down.

An official statement said the shutdown ended at about 3 p.m. and lasted seven hours, indicating it began at 8 a.m.

Officials alternately said Hurd tried to pass security at 6 a.m. or 7 a.m. Nearby school officials locked down campuses at about 8 a.m. after hearing from a plant worker.

"The plant was never in danger, and the public was never in danger," McDonald said.

"If it had the potential to be (a threat), the security guards stopped it."

It is believed to be the first time the plant has been locked down, said Fallon, who has been involved with the facility for more than 27 years, before it opened in 1986.

Explosives, firearms, alcohol and drugs are prohibited from the site.

Security checkpoints

Utility executives said the event reveals the effectiveness of security at the facility.

Palo Verde is currently under the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's microscope for safety problems related to plant operation.

The NRC had 20 inspectors at the facility in October, and APS officials expect it will take a year or two of improvements for the plant to get out of so-called Category 4 status.

An NRC spokesman said the agency will review how APS handled the lockdown.

"From what we have seen so far, it would appear the security force was attentive and vigilant and appropriately identified a potential problem and took the correct action," spokesman Victor Dricks said.

Palo Verde declared an "unusual event," the lowest of four emergency categories a nuclear plant can call.

Dricks said such events occur "every few days" among the nation's 104 nuclear plants but not because of credible threats.

Edington said he did not think the incident will hurt the plant's NRC standing because the response was appropriate.

"Everything worked the way it should have worked," Edington said.

"The guards found it at the very first of our checks."

Arkansas Nuclear Plant On Alert After Arizona Incident

A nuclear plant in Arkansas was placed on alert after a lockdown on Friday at a nuclear power plant in Arizona, authorities said.A contract worker was arrested in Arizona after an explosive device was found in the back of his truck.Because of that incident, officials at Nuclear One in Russellville said they are on heightened alert.

Security officers have been warned to be especially vigilant while checking vehicles at the facility.

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