ALBANY, N.Y. – 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 Monday.
The commission's inspector general, at the behest of Sen. Charles Schumer, began the review after a suspected al-Qaida member, Sharif Mobley, was found to have worked in a New Jersey nuclear power plant for 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,'" Schumer, of New York, told The Associated Press in an interview. "It's not that these power plants are rife with terrorists ... but all you need is one."
Mobley's arrest 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.
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. There was no immediate comment from the commission.
"It is well past time that these safeguards are put in place," said Rep. Bill 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.
"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 in Yemen. He had passed criminal background checks and worked as a laborer at several nuclear power plants without incident. There is no indication that his work had any connection to his alleged involvement with terror groups, authorities have said.