Three Illegal Aliens Caught
Working At PA Nuclear Plant

By Wendi Himmelright
The York Dispatch (PA)
From Scott Portzline

Tuesday's detention of three Mexican aliens at the Peach Bottom Nuclear Power Plant shows security measures in place since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks are working, a plant spokesman said yesterday.

But the spokesman for a local nuclear watchdog group said the incident only makes the case for federal screening of those who enter nuclear plants.

The three illegal aliens were taken into custody around 11 a.m., Tuesday, at the security office, 500 yards from the plant entrance, said David Simon, communications manager for Exelon Energy Corp., owner of the Peach Bottom plant. He said a state trooper stationed at the office thought green cards were too small to be legitimate.

"Where they were detained is far away from the plant, and the security building that is now there was not there before 9/11," Simon said. "It's one of those things -- because we are being more vigilant further out from the plant, we were able to catch them."

The incident wasn't the only one at the plant Tuesday, however. Just after noon, two 16-year old boys inadvertently drove up to the security checkpoint in an attempt to turn around, Simon said. The kids were found to have marijuana, a machete, and a BB gun. Simon did not know if charges were filed.

State police refused to release any information on either incident.

New measures: Both state troopers and Army National Guard troops have been posted at the plant since November, under an order by Gov. Mark Schweiker. Before the terrorist attacks, the public could drive directly into the parking lot, Simon said.

Eric Epstein, chairman of TMI Alert, a local watchdog group, said the fact the state police caught the illegal aliens shows added security is necessary and should be maintained indefinitely.

"If it wasn't for the state police or National Guard, the company would have missed this," Epstein said of the illegal immigrants.

Not first day of work: The three worked for a landscaping company maintaining the plant grounds. Simon said he did not know how many times they had previously made it through security -- but this was not their first day.

The three were taken into custody by the federal Immigration and Naturalization Service.

INS spokeswoman Niki Edwards said two are being held in York County Prison, while the third, a juvenile, is at the Berks County Youth Shelter Facility. The agency will initiate removal proceedings, under which an INS judge will determine if they will be deported to Mexico.

She said the INS is not investigating any possible terrorism connection with the men.

Simon said he did not have specific information on the landscaping company who hired the illegal aliens. However, subcontractors are responsible for screening their employees who work on plant property but do not enter the building.

Background checks: If the contractor's employees enter the building, then Peach Bottom does its own background check before granting them badges, said Hugh McNally, regional security manager for Exelon Nuclear in Kennett Square, Chester County.

The company is also a partner of AmerGen Energy Co., which owns the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plant.

Epstein said access to the plants should be regulated by the federal government and anyone coming near -- even if only into the parking lot -- should be required to have a background check.

Protocol needed: "Anybody getting access to the facility should be scrutinized," he said. "I don't even think they (Exelon) are capable of doing it. I think we need some kind of standardized security protocol implemented. "

Regulating the hiring of foreign workers and limiting their access to nuclear plants is part of the motivation behind legislation recently introduced by U.S. Rep. Edward J. Markey D-Mass. His bill would have the federal government take over reactor security just as it has taken responsibility airport security.

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