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[cdn-nucl-l] Extortion charges in Palo Verde Nuclear plant case show security measures working
Posted in the San Diego Union-Tribune on July 16, 2002 and at:
Entrepreneuring 20 and 31 year olds...
Extortion charges in Palo Verde Nuclear plant case show security
By Scott Thomsen
July 16, 2002
PHOENIX - Extortion charges against two California men regarding repair
work on a $3 million cooling system part from the Palo Verde Nuclear
Generating Station show plant security measures are working, regulators
and watchdog groups said.
Kevin Mitlo, 20, of Azusa and Tony Mitchell, 31, of Duarte were arrested
last week and booked for investigation of extortion, grand theft and
conspiracy. They were being held in a San Bernardino County jail on $2
million bail each and were scheduled to make their first court
Authorities said the suspects were supposed to provide a cost estimate
for repairing the part, but instead billed the plant for work they
Watchdog groups, state officials and federal regulators said the public
should be reassured by how the incident was handled, not alarmed.
"For the people living around the plant, it's an indicator that there's
a program out there trying to flag people who try to supply counterfeit
parts or take shortcuts on safety," said David Lochbaum, a nuclear
safety engineer for the Union of Concerned Scientists, which monitors
nuclear plant operations.
Palo Verde officials filed a complaint Thursday with the Maricopa County
Sheriff's Department alleging that a Fontana, Calif. company, All
Machines Specialists, failed to return a part that was sent to the
company under a contract.
The part was a 45,000-pound circulating water pump shaft. It helps send
water from a condenser to a cooling tower at the plant in Wintersburg,
55 miles west of Phoenix, said Jim McDonald, a spokesman for Arizona
Public Service, which operates Palo Verde.
Palo Verde, which supplies power to 4 million customers in Arizona, New
Mexico, Texas and California, has 12 of the pumps operating at all times
and routinely rotates them out of service for maintenance and repairs,
"It's a water pump you could find in many, many industrial facilities,"
McDonald said, noting that the part is not connected with the plant's
nuclear reactors or any security concerns. "It's two systems removed
from any nuclear purposes."
San Bernadino County Sheriff's investigators say the men misrepresented
All Machines Specialists as being a large company with resources to do
the job when in reality they didn't have any equipment at all.
They received a contract to inspect the pump shaft and estimate the cost
of repair. After receiving an estimate that was about five times the
typical $40,000 to $45,000 for such work, the power plant asked to get
the part back.
Investigators said the men then billed the power plant $92,000 for
alleged work that had not been done at the time and refused to return it
without payment. After billing Palo Verde, the men allegedly took the
parts to a machine shop for minor cleaning and machining that cost in
the $6,000 range.
The men were arrested and the part was recovered at a California truck
stop where they had arranged a meeting with representatives of the
"What you have here is somebody trying to pull a scam and they failed,"
McDonald said security measures are in place to prevent such problems
from interrupting plant operations.
"Nothing goes in the plant without a thorough check," he said. "Anything
related to reactor or safety goes through an even higher level of
scrutiny than what worked here."
Nuclear Regulatory Agency spokesman Breck Henderson said no special
security measures are required for routine maintenance of mechanical
parts that are not associated with a nuclear plant's reactor.
"Parts is parts," he said. "The vast majority of the parts in the plant,
they just pump sewage water from Phoenix out there."
Even so, the incident demonstrates the good job Palo Verde is doing with
its security and why officials need to pay attention to such matters,
said Scott Celley, Gov. Jane Hull's energy adviser.
"Everybody has their eyes open and are being more vigilant. If
everybody's doing that you're going to detect things," he said. "It's a
sign that the system is working on one hand, but it's another attention
getter for all of us to be vigilant on the other."