Saturday, January 03, 2004

In The News Today: January 3, 2004

Kerry Spells Out Local Security Plans:

PLEASANT HILL, Iowa - Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, collecting endorsements for his Democratic presidential campaign from leaders of public safety unions, spelled out a plan to give local officials broader powers and more money for dealing with threats to domestic security.

Kerry is proposing relaxed requirements for security clearances in times of threat to give local officials greater access to information. He also wants to strengthen emergency telephone systems to handle wireless equipment and create networks that allow smaller local communities to work together against a threat.

In a meeting in suburban Des Moines on Saturday, Kerry collected the endorsement of the heads of the Des Moines firefighters and police unions, both traditionally active in politics in the largest city of the state where this month's party caucuses open the nation's election season.

"Americans have had enough of politicians who are firefighters' and police officers' best friends when the bagpipes are wailing, but walk away when the flags return to full staff," Kerry said.

Kerry told a group of about 100 cheering firefighters and police that two-thirds of the nation's firehouses are short-staffed. "We've had enough of those who offer words without actions, tough rhetoric and a tin pot record. We shouldn't be opening firehouses in Iraq, while closing them in America." -- By Mike Glover, AP Political Writer

Meanwhile as Kerry is spelling out measures to increase local security...
We find out that... Dean Was Warned on Lax Vt. Security

Presidential hopeful Howard Dean, who accuses President Bush of being weak on homeland security, was warned repeatedly as Vermont governor about security lapses at his state's nuclear power plant and was told the state was ill-prepared for a disaster at its most attractive terrorist target.

The warnings, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press, began in 1991 when a group of students were brought into a secure area of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant without proper screening. On at least two occasions, a gun or mock terrorists passed undetected into the plant during security tests.

During Dean's final year in office in 2002, an audit concluded that despite a decade of repeated warnings of poor safety at Vermont Yankee, Dean's administration was poorly prepared for a nuclear disaster.

"The lack of funding and overarching coordination at the state level directly impacts the ability of the state, local and power plant planners to be adequately prepared for a real emergency at Vermont Yankee," state Auditor Elizabeth M. Ready wrote in a study issued five months after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Security was so lax at Vermont Yankee that in August 2001, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission staged a drill in which three mock terrorists gained access to the plant. The agency gave Vermont Yankee the worst security rating among the nation's 103 reactors.

The NRC has primary responsibility for safety at Vermont Yankee. But Vermont laws required an active state role by creating a panel to review security and performance and requiring plant operators to set aside money for the state to use in the event of a nuclear disaster....

The audit was not the first warning to Dean, documents show....

On Feb. 14, 2000, von Turkovich wrote Dean's top deputy, Administration Secretary Kathleen Hoyt, expressing concern the state was not forcing Vermont Yankee, which was up for sale, to set aside more money for preparedness.

"We are sympathetic to the utility's concern for controlling costs with respect to the pending sale of the plant and have committed to expend additional state and federal resources to subsidize this program in the coming year," von Turkovich wrote.

"However, I believe in the near future, the present or new owners will need to broaden their level of support for preparedness activities that need to be accomplished on behalf of the communities that reside in the Emergency Planning Zone," he wrote.

The documents contrast with Dean's position as a presidential candidate who has portrayed himself as more concerned about nuclear security than Bush.

"Our most important challenge will be to address the most dangerous threat of all: catastrophic terrorism using weapons of mass destruction," Dean said in his speech in Los Angeles last month. "Here, where the stakes are highest, the current administration has, remarkably, done the least."

Dean also has suggested Bush was unprepared before and after Sept. 11 to fight terrorism. "We are in danger of losing the war on terror, because we are fighting it with the strategies of the past," the Democratic candidate said.

The Vermont documents show Dean and his top aides received numerous warnings about Vermont Yankee.

In August 1991, an aide sent a handwritten memo to Dean saying there was a "security error" at Vermont Yankee that was "not public."

A group of students "on a tour were taken into a secure area without checking through security first," the aide wrote, saying the matter was minor but would be disclosed to federal regulators. Dean initialed the memo, indicating he read it.

In 1992, the NRC provided information to Dean about "declining performances at Vermont Yankee in three important areas: plant security, engineering/technical support and safety assessment/quality verification," documents show.

Dean responded by writing the head of the plant that the problems could "have an impact on the health and safety of the people of Vermont" and "it is my expectation that you will do all in your power to correct this declining trend." It was one of several such letters he wrote.

Just months later, the Vermont Nuclear Advisory Panel, a state panel, reported that two nuclear fuel mishandling incidents at the plant were the "result of complacent operator and management actions."

Richard Sedano, Dean's top utility regulator, said Saturday that while "everybody has a different appreciation of terrorism after the World Trade Center" the state closely monitored Vermont Yankee's safety and in May 1993 staged a public hearing to embarrass the plant's operators into improving their management. He called it a "therapeutic and beneficial experience."

Environmental groups sent Dean repeated letters about the plant's security and safety. During a 1998 federal security test, mock terrorists sneaked a fake gun past security and six times scaled, undetected, the plant's security perimeter fence.

The 1998 test was alarming because seven years earlier, protesters had managed to breach the same security by scaling the fence or rafting down an adjacent river. The 2001 security test again penetrated Vermont Yankee's security.

Ready's audit in 2002 questioned why, with so many warnings about safety, Dean's administration had significantly fewer people committed to nuclear emergency planning than neighboring states.

"Unlike its nearest counterparts, Vermont's Division of Emergency Management has only one full-time and two part-time staff to support" its emergency response program, she wrote. "New Hampshire has nearly 20 full- and part-time staff as well as consultants, while Massachusetts has more than 20 full-time staff to carry out" its program.

When it comes to National Security, John Kerry is a cut above all the candidates. Kerry has had the pulse on National Security for years. That shows in reading Kerry's book, The New War.


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