Nuke security, at the ready
Editor's note: Updated version to clarify the function of the Multi-Integrated Laser-guided system equipment, or MILES gear.
Waterford - Manny Aponte darts for cover behind a wall at Millstone Power Station, tailed by two other nuclear security guards, when he is hit.
The 31-year-old Army veteran from New London shakes off the disruption, as an instructor resets sensors on a harness strapped to his chest. Aponte reloads his semi-automatic rifle and turns his attention to the next barrier, ready for more action.
Eighteen security officers are participating on this hot August day inside the air-conditioned building in drills using Multi-Integrated Laser-guided System equipment. MILES gear includes blanks fired from the altered semi-automatic rifles and lasers. The blanks emit noise while the laser strikes a guard's harness, which in turn emits brief or sustained beeps to indicate a near-miss or hit.
Dozens of reactor sites in the country have indoor firing ranges. But Millstone's, built in 2005 in response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, is more sophisticated than many, said Philipp Baumann, Dominion's manager of protection services. Concrete-encased, the range cost $5 million to build.
In the past, security officers had to be bused off-site for training in the Durham area, Dominion spokesman Ken Holt said. Many years ago, they would also train at the Waterford police firing range. Either way, it was an added expense with time spent away from the station.
"Having it on-site gives you the ability to train people 365 days a year, 24 hours a day," Holt said. "Our officers can train at 2 in the morning if they need to, and because it's inside, weather is not an issue for us."
One hundred yards long and 30 yards wide, the firing range has 10 stalls for target practice, and another 10 stalls one story up, to simulate the elevated shooting guards might do from guard towers. It is also equipped to simulate different lighting and weather conditions. Moveable props simulate actual buildings and hardened barricades.
Millstone's nuclear security officers, who work for the company Securitas, receive more than 100 hours a year of training and develop skills first as cadets and then armed responders, Holt said. The officers work in a variety of environments, including areas where radiation is present but monitored and contained.
"Some people have the misconception that our security officers are like mall cops," Holt said. "Sgt. Edwin Rivera (who died in Afghanistan last year) was a security officer. We have a lot of military experience, a lot of law enforcement experience. We make every effort to keep this place as secure as possible."
A potential target
After a morning lecture, before drills begin, Louis Compostella, a Dominion nuclear security instructor, gives the guards a pep talk. The guards have been training since February, and had target practice weeks earlier.
"Is everybody OK to do this?" he asks. "This is not live fire. It's blank ammo. But every weapon's treated like it's loaded. I want you to be safe. It's not like we're in the classroom anymore."
Inside the firing range, everyone is patted down to make sure they're not introducing any real ammo into a simulated environment.
While Millstone has never suffered the threat of a malicious intruder, Holt said, Dominion believes the capacity the firing range provides for on-site training for guards is invaluable in a post-9/11 world.
"It allows me to have total control over the environments where they train," Baumann said, "and that improves morale."
While nuclear complexes are hardened structures, they are a potential target for terrorists, Holt said.
"Threats to nuclear power plants have tremendous consequences to the community, and our officers understand that," he said. "They take their training to protect the health and safety of the public seriously."
Security guard Jim Foley, 51, of Sprague, finishes the drills with more confidence and inner satisfaction than he had when he started.
"The things they've drilled into us in this training period, it all becomes second nature when you apply it in a scenario like this," he said.
"It felt like the training kicked in, rather than everybody consciously thinking, 'I have to aim.' 'I have to squeeze (the trigger).' 'I have to breathe.' You react rather than consciously think about it."
On Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011, The Day will publish a special section on the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks. Today's story on Millstone and others this week will address various aspects of how we've changed as a nation since then.
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