By DANIELLE WOODWARD
Capital News Service
LANSING — Nuclear power plant security guards have no more authority to use force than civilians.
But lawmakers have introduced bills in the House and Senate to change that by allowing them to use deadly and non-deadly force within reason.
“It would allow them, in specific situations that they deem necessary, to use force to remove someone from a power plant,” said, Rep. Al Pscholka, R-Stevensville, the primary sponsor for the House bill. “This is not something where security officers will be able to shoot protestors. It is to prevent terrorists from coming to the door of a nuclear power plant.”
Nuclear plant security officers can only use force now to prevent imminent death but this law would give them the same authority as a police officer, said Terrence Jungel, Michigan Sheriffs’ Association executive director.
Police officers can decide when it is necessary to use force because their job is to protect both themselves and the public, said Victoria Mitlyng, public affairs officer for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
“This just gives us another layer of protection,” Pscholka said. “We don’t want terrorists to get to the door. They only have to get lucky once and we have to be vigilant about protection every day.”
Lawmakers want security to be able to respond appropriately if they feel there is a threat to the plant.
“The harm done by intruders could be far worse if they had to wait for local police to get to the scene,” said Rep. Bill Rodgers, R-Brighton, a cosponsor of the bill.
Michigan’s three nuclear power plants are in Bridgman, Covert and Frenchtown Charter Township. Indiana Michigan Power, which operates the Bridgman plant, pushed for the legislation.
DTE Energy, with a power plant in Frenchtown Charter Township, supports the legislation.
“This legislation makes sense because it protects the health and safety of the public,” said Guy Cerullo, nuclear communications manager for DTE Energy.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission lets each state determine the amount of force officers are allowed to use.
“Generally we have security requirements on the federal side that have to do with the officer training, the number of officers, the weapons that can be used and other requirements to make sure that the plants are secure,”Mitlyng said. “Where the states come in is the way security guards operate in terms of the use of force.”
Officers are armed and can use physical force.
Five other states have already enacted this law, said Jungel, who supports the legislation.
“This really caught my attention because I was not aware that security guards had no more power than a civilian, which is alarming in itself,” Jungel said.
In some states security officers can use a weapon, but the intruder has to be a direct threat to the power plant, Mitlyng said.
The legislation is strictly a preventative measure.
“The reality of the situation is we are in the age of terrorism and anyone who is illegally entering a protected power plant poses a threat to the public,” Jungel said.
“Any time we can identify a threat we should do what we can do to prevent it from happening. The officers now have no other authority than giving intruders a misdemeanor for trespassing.”
Officers who guard the plants must be trained and certified, Pscholka said. Some of them are contractors hired by plants and many have military experience.