Image: Three Mile Island nuclear plant
Tom Mihalek  /  AFP-Getty Images
The Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Middletown, Penn., was among five that al-Qaida suspect Sharif Mobley worked at as a laborer. staff and news service reports
updated 10/4/2010 3:44:26 PM ET 2010-10-04T19:44:26

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission should be given better access to criminal databases and foreign travel history to try to keep terrorists from getting jobs inside the nation's nuclear power plants, federal auditors said in a report released Monday.

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The commission's inspector general, at the behest of Sen. Charles Schumer and Rep. Bill Owens, began the review after a suspected al-Qaida member, Sharif Mobley, was found to have worked at six U.S. nuclear power plants over six years.

"The terrorists look for our weak pressure points and it's certainly possible they may say, 'Maybe we can send someone to infiltrate a nuclear power plant'," said Schumer, of New York. "It's not that these power plants are rife with terrorists ... but all you need is one."

Mobley's arrest last March in Yemen shows that the nation needed better security to protect nuclear plants from terrorist infiltration, and the NRC "truly stepped up to the plate and provided concrete, actionable recommendations that can be put in place immediately," Schumer said.

"Mobley had unescorted access to these sites; however, he did not have access to safeguards information or computer systems," the audit by the NRC's inspector general stated.

"Based on discussions with affected licensees, NRC management stated that there was no evidence to indicate that Mobley had been 'radicalized' prior to his most recent employment at Salem/Hope Creek" in New Jersey, the audit said.

Schumer discussed the audit and security issues during a series of news conferences near nuclear plants in New York on Monday. He said the recommendations must be acted upon within 30 days.

The NRC generally agreed with the findings and is working on the recommendations. It said its access program was already "robust."

"We had already started working on some issues and enhancements," said NRC spokeswoman Holly Harrington. "We do expect other enhancements based on their recommendations that will be implemented in the future."

"It is well past time that these safeguards are put in place," said Owens, D-N.Y.

The audit was dated Sept. 30 and was released with some material redacted because of national security concerns.

Among the recommendations:

  • Allowing the NRC direct access to a background data on power plant employees nationwide.
  • Implementing procedures to ensure more regular monitoring of a "watch list." Under the procedure, anyone with access to a nuclear plant will be checked against a terrorist watch list on a more frequent basis. For security reasons, the interval wasn't disclosed.
  • Improving employee training in detecting and reporting "behaviors associated with terrorist intent."

The audit also said there should be disclosure of foreign travel for job applicants seeking "unescorted access to nuclear power plants." Such a requirement is not in place now, although part of the section that raises the issue was redacted.

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"Requiring disclosure of foreign travel on personal history questionnaires was an idea conveyed to (the Office of Inspector General) during interviews," the audit stated, without identifying which interviews or other details.

In August, the agency's managers generally agreed with the audit's findings and made some recommendations.

Mobley is under arrest in Yemen.

He had passed criminal background checks and worked as a laborer at nuclear power plants without incident.

Mobley worked as a laborer at six nuclear power plants from 2002 to 2008.

Mobley worked mostly at the Salem/Hope Creek nuclear plants (76 weeks), but also at Calvert Cliffs in Maryland (2 weeks) as well as Three Mile Island (2 weeks), Peach Bottom (4 weeks) and Limerick (4 weeks), all three of which are in Pennsylvania.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Video: Arrested in Yemen

  1. Closed captioning of: Arrested in Yemen

    >>> holy mackerel stories. did you hear they have arrested another american with alleged ties to al qaeda ? it's a 26-year-old natural-born u.s. citizen from new jersey. authorities say he was arrested in a security sweep of al qaeda suspects in the capital city of yemen . the yemeni embassy said while he was in custody the man complained that he felt sick. when taken to a hospital he reportedly grabbed a gun off a security guard at the hospital, shot and killed one guard and shot an wounded another. he was then recaptured and we learned about his arrest today. there are three things to know about this. fist, he's accused of having links to the branch of al qaeda in yemen , the group also linked to the christmas day failed underwear bomb attack. second thing, like the kid in the underwear bomb attack and like major nadal hasan, the ft. hood shooter, this guy is said to be in contact with a man named anwar al-alwaki, a radical american clerk who lives in yemen . he claims to be -- well, there have been there's three different suspects were said to be in contact with this man who seems to have quite a rolodex. the final thing that's important about the case and may be the most worrying thing -- did you see this? suspected militant worked at nuclear plants . so in addition to being a u.s. citizen with a passport in touch with a radical clerk who seems to inspired lots of attacks and attempted attacks on the united states , this guy appears to have worked as nuclear power plants here for at least six year. he worked at three plants in new jersey as a relatively low level laborer. the alleged al qaeda kid at the nuclear plant . a law enforcement official telling the ap they think the job was unrelated to his alleged al qaeda job, so there's that. his mofather in new jersey was asked to comment on the arrest in yemen . he said, i can tell you this, he's no terrorist. we'll keep you posted on the case.


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