Entergy warns against Vermont Yankee trespassing

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VERNON >> Vermont Yankee ceased operations Dec. 29, but a sign that hangs on the nuclear plant's perimeter fence is unequivocal: "Unauthorized entry to this property will be treated as a threat to the safety of this facility, its workers and the general public."

After two alleged trespassing incidents in the last few weeks, plant administrators are re-emphasizing that message. Even though a checkpoint at the main entrance is unmanned following staffing reductions in January, officials say armed, on-site security personnel are keeping a close watch and will react to any attempt to enter the site.

"This is a 24/7 secured facility," said Martin Cohn, a spokesman for Yankee owner Entergy. "We take this very seriously.

Though Vermont Yankee no longer produces power, spent fuel remains on site and the plant's current workforce exceeds 300. In a statement issued Wednesday, Entergy said Vermont Yankee still must meet security requirements mandated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Homeland Security and the FBI.

"The NRC requires all nuclear power plants to employ a physical-protection program that includes intrusion detection and alarm systems, an armed-response security force to defend the facilities and other measures that are not shared with the general public," the company's statement says. "Following the shutdown of Vermont Yankee, modified security measures approved by the NRC were put in place, resulting in redeployment of gate security officers."

That's why a visitor to the Vernon plant won't immediately encounter an officer at the main gate. But Cohn said that, "just because they're not manned doesn't mean they're not monitored."

Two recent incidents highlight that. On March 14, a female was spotted walking on Vermont Yankee property near the plant support building and around cooling towers, according to documents from Entergy.

The company says security officers were dispatched, and Windham County Sheriff's Department — which patrols Vernon full-time — responded to escort the woman from the plant.

Entergy's statement describes the incident this way:

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"While the trespasser might have driven into the parking lot outside the plant's protected area, there was continuous monitoring of all areas across the site and additional security measures in place at the protected area boundary. Vermont Yankee security identified and detained the trespasser. Pursuant to procedure, local law enforcement was notified, and the trespasser was issued a notice against trespass."

Windham County Sheriff Keith Clark on Wednesday said the woman departed willingly and likely won't be criminally cited, as it seemed clear that she did not understand the rules of the property.

Entergy says there was another incident on March 22, when a car carrying two people drove into the plant support building parking lot. The driver took pictures of the plant with her cell phone and then exited, but Entergy says the suspects "were under constant camera observation."

Information about the car was forwarded to the sheriff's department, and Clark said the department still is investigating the incident.

Clark added that "we're going to look at every incident as an individual case." If patterns emerge, he said, the sheriff's department will work with Entergy to identify and resolve any issues at the site.

Cohn emphasized that the company "works very closely with local law enforcement as part of our system." But administrators also say Vermont Yankee retains a strong security presence of its own.

"The fences and checkpoints you see at Vermont Yankee are only a small part of its defense and in-depth security strategy," the company's statement says. "In fact, much of its defense lies in the things you can't see."

That security is heightened still more for what's termed the plant's "protected area." Barrett Green, head of Vermont Yankee decommissioning, said an incursion into that area prompts a swift, decisive response.

"If you make an attempt to penetrate the next level of security, you're going to get a reaction," Green said.

Contact Mike Faher at 802-254-2311, ext. 275.


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