Access Authorization Regulations Lead to Arrest

generic power plant site mapAn illegal immigrant from Mexico was recently arrested after using an invalid Arizona identification card to enter the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station. Power plant security officers reported the suspicious ID to the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, which promptly made an arrest.

The man, a contract worker, did not have access to the most secure areas of the plant. He was arrested on felony charges — criminal trespass on a commercial nuclear generating station.

The incident underscores the NRC’s access authorization regulations, which are designed to make sure only the most trustworthy and reliable individuals gain access to vital safety areas of a nuclear power plant.

As with many industries and facilities, contract companies are used for projects and basic maintenance such as concrete work. In the case of the Palo Verde plant, the individual was doing work just inside an area known as the owner-controlled area (OCA), which houses no vital safety areas, information or systems. The area requires a valid ID issued by a state or government, and a legitimate reason for entering the OCA, such as previously approved work.

The worker had no access to the most secure areas of the plant with what is called the “protected area.” This area is only accessible by badged personnel, who have undergone stringent screening and background checks, or by individuals being escorted by approved plant personnel.

The site can be thought of as a series of rings representing areas with varying degrees of security checks and measures. The reactor, turbine building, and other safety related equipment, for example, are housed in the highly secured and heavily guarded inner-most ring with access controls, intrusion detection and strategically placed observation towers.

It is the responsibility of the nuclear power plants licensed by the NRC to vet individuals and approve their access to the plant — including those working under contract through other companies. The NRC will be taking a look at the Arizona Public Service Company’s actions related to the arrest of the contract worker to make sure our regulations were followed. The good news is that the system worked to identify someone who didn’t belong and the appropriate law enforcement action was taken.

Lara Uselding
Region IV Public Affairs Officer