Late last year there was a lot of hype about a series of cell phone videos recorded by a new security guard at the Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station of fellow guards dozing off while in a room identified as a “ready room”. Having never actually been on the commercial side of the nuclear business, I am still having some difficulty with understanding why it would be a big deal.
In the military, we have “ready rooms” where people gather for briefings and to await orders to take action. Generally speaking, the people on alert in ready rooms are in full gear and ready to move when called, but there is often a lengthy period of waiting before the call actually occurs. Sometimes days can expire without any call to action. As some wise observer once described the situation “hours of boredom punctuated by seconds of pure adrenaline.”
When in this kind of “ready room” waiting period, experienced military people grab naps whenever possible, knowing that it might be their last opportunity for quite some time. I have spoken to a lot of people who have been in combat units; they have the same mentality about napping when things are quiet. Unlike people who are wrapped up in warm blankets and used to full night sleeps, however, combat troops and sailors on alert can go from dead sleep to full alert and motion in a matter of seconds.
From what I have been able to glean about the guards at Peach Bottom, they were in the same mode. There was not much going on, it is impossible to stay fully engaged for 12 hours at a time, and it is often beneficial for overall performance to take brief naps during quiet periods. Many security guards have military backgrounds, so the discussion above about the way that we manage to survive for long periods without the opportunity for real sleep is also important to remember.
Can anyone help me to understand why Dale Klein – the chairman of the NRC would say “The NRC has no tolerance for sleeping or inattentive security officers. When these allegations arose, we investigated but did not reach the right outcome. Upon learning the full extent of the problem, we looked at our own system for examining these situations, found areas for improvement and are making changes.” (Feds pledge new policies on guards, whistle-blowers at nuclear plants)
If you can also help me to understand Exelon’s reaction – firing the company who supplied the guard force – I would much appreciate it. I have a strong sense of responsibility about nuclear plant safety, but I think that the reaction here should have been to explain to the public that the guards caught on camera by an inexperienced guard – whose motives might bear some investigation – were doing exactly what they were supposed to do during breaks in the “ready room”. They were getting their bodies ready for a response by getting some rest during a long and frequently boring shift work job.