Entergy outsourcing Yankee security earlier than anticipated

vermont Yankee
The spent fuel pool at Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant holds fuel assemblies awaiting a move to dry cask storage. Photo courtesy Vermont Yankee

VERNON — Starting in late June, an outside contractor will be providing armed, round-the-clock security for Vermont Yankee and its radioactive spent nuclear fuel.

Entergy announced Tuesday that it is outsourcing protection of the Vernon plant to Securitas Critical Infrastructure Services, a subsidiary of Securitas AB — a Swedish company that bills itself as one of the world’s largest providers of security services.

Officials say the five-year deal will save millions and ease Entergy’s “administrative burden” at the shut-down plant. But SCIS President Ron Hickie said the company expects to retain all of Vermont Yankee’s current security force.

Vermont Yankee ceased producing power in December 2014. Ten days before shutdown, Entergy submitted a lengthy decommissioning report that included mention that the plant’s security force eventually would be “transitioning to a contracted organization.”

That was expected to happen only after all of the plant’s spent nuclear fuel was moved from a cooling pool into more stable dry cask storage. That fuel move is expected to be complete by the end of 2020.

Tuesday’s announcement means Entergy has decided to switch to contracted security four years sooner than initially planned. Officials said that decision will decrease the company’s previously disclosed $12.4 million price tag for post-shutdown security.

While not providing specific contractual numbers, Vermont Yankee spokesman Marty Cohn noted that “implementation of the plan ahead of schedule will provide economic benefits to the (decommissioning trust fund) in the millions of dollars over the next four years.”

Hickie, the SCIS president, touted his company’s record in guarding other decommissioning nuclear plants, including Connecticut Yankee, Maine Yankee and Yankee Rowe in Massachusetts.

“We’ve actually done six of these,” he said. “We bring a great deal of experience to the table.”

Much about the plant’s security — including the number of guards currently employed by Entergy — is kept out of the public eye. The federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission recently approved security changes at Vermont Yankee, but officials would not say specifically what those changes were, citing the need to keep sensitive information out of the hands of “potential adversaries.”

Neil Sheehan
Neil Sheehan of the NRC. File photo from The Commons

On Tuesday, Entergy said SCIS has been retained to provide “security and related services” at Vermont Yankee starting June 28. The company noted that its security plan must comply with the requirements of the NRC, FBI and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security — requirements that include “intrusion detection and alarm systems; an armed-response security force to defend the facilities; and other measures not shared with the public.”

The NRC did not have to sign off specifically on Entergy’s security outsourcing, agency spokesman Neil Sheehan said.

“We have clearly established security requirements that the plant owner is responsible for adhering to, whether via its own staff or contractors,” Sheehan said. “We carry out inspections to ensure those requirements are being met. It would continue to be incumbent upon Entergy, as the owner of record, to address any deficiencies identified during these reviews.”

Sheehan added that “the use of security contractors has occurred at numerous operating and decommissioning nuclear power plants.” In fact, it’s not a novel arrangement at Vermont Yankee: Security Manager Patrick Ryan said it wasn’t until 2009 that Entergy brought the plant’s security “in house.”

After SCIS takes over, Ryan and four other plant security administrators will remain Entergy Vermont Yankee employees. That’s primarily for “oversight and execution of the contract,” Ryan said.

But the remainder of the plant’s security contingent will be employed and managed by SCIS. Ryan said those guards know the plant well, since more than half of them have been protecting the site for 15 years or more.

“I’ve got a very experienced security force,” Ryan said. “I’ve got members of my security force that have been here for 25 or 30 years.”

Hickie said that institutional knowledge is key reason for his company to retain Yankee’s current security personnel. “Also, it’s the cost savings in training,” he said. “The training cycle is very long. It’s a three-month process to train new people (at Vermont Yankee), and it’s very costly.”

SCIS brings extensive experience in high-stakes, federally certified security. The company maintains more than 12,000 security and fire personnel in the U.S., Hickie said, and specializes in protecting nuclear, petrochemical and defense/aerospace facilities.

In addition to the company’s prior work at the three Yankee nuclear plants in New England, SCIS has overseen security during nuclear fuel transfers at the Big Rock Point plant in Michigan, La Crosse in Wisconsin and Zion in Illinois.

In announcing the new deal with Vermont Yankee, Hickie said his company “has led decommissioning and fuel transfer activities at more than half of the independent spent fuel storage installation locations in the U.S.”

Given the company’s history, Entergy is expecting “a seamless transition, with security remaining a top priority for us at Vermont Yankee,” Cohn said.

The same goes for Windham County Sheriff Keith Clark, whose department provides police protection in Vernon. Clark said he hadn’t yet spoken with Entergy about the upcoming changes in plant security, but he was not concerned about that.

“During the transitioning process we will meet with the new security provider to ensure we will have the same level of communication we currently have,” Clark said.

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