Deputy: Smoke flare likely nuke plant scare cause

AP News
Posted: Oct 13, 2010 4:24 PM
Deputy: Smoke flare likely nuke plant scare cause

A device that caused the entrance to a nuclear power plant west of Phoenix to be closed appears to be a smoke flare used in firefighter training, authorities said.

The device was found under the seat of an employee's car at a security checkpoint a mile from the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station at about daybreak on Wednesday, Maricopa County Sheriff's Office spokesman Lt. Brian Lee said. At first glance, it looked like a stick of dynamite, so plant security closed the checkpoint to traffic as a precaution.

Power plant operations weren't affected and the checkpoint was reopened after about three hours.

The employee was questioned but Lee says she was not arrested. An official with plant operator Arizona Public Service Co. said the issue will likely be handled as an internal matter.

The device was 4 to 6 inches long and had a fuse attached, said Bob Bement, the vice president for nuclear operations at APS. Lee said it had "smoke" written on it.

The device was detonated at another location.

Security guards at the checkpoint search every vehicle entering, said Jim McDonald, a spokesman for plant operator Arizona Public Service Co. Closing the checkpoint was standard procedure, he said, and the biggest problem was that the incident happened at shift change and traffic backed up.

A similar incident happened at the plant in November 2007 when security guards at the same checkpoint found a pipe bomb in the bed of an employee's truck. The employee told investigators he rarely used the truck, left it parked in his apartment complex lot and didn't know who placed it in the truck bed. He was cleared to return to work.

The triple-reactor plant 50 miles west of Phoenix is the nation's largest nuclear power facility. It is owned by APS and a consortium of western power companies.