Web sites provide a glimpse of TMI security, raising concern for safety

A watchdog group thinks satellite images could pose a risk, but the nuclear plant says no security measures are compromised.

Monday, June 08, 2009

BY MONICA VON DOBENECK mdobeneck@patriot-news.com

Visitors at Three Mile Island are asked not to photograph guard towers, vehicle barriers and other security measures. Yet these items are easily seen on the Internet through such sites as Microsoft's maps.live.com, now bing.com/maps.

Scott Portzline, a consultant for the watchdog group Three Mile Island Alert, thinks this is a security problem.

He has monitored sites such as Google Earth, which bring satellite images to home computers, for several years. Recently, he said, the level of detail has increased.



"You can see the guard shack, the gun turrets, a guard walking on the roof," he said. "I can see 16-inch wheels on the vehicles. I can count fence posts."

The amount of detail on Microsoft's site "could show terrorists the quickest and best route to buildings," Portzline said.

Ralph DeSantis, a spokesman for Three Mile Island, said the nuclear power plant's security forces are aware of the images and are constantly revising security measures.

The security program "is designed and tested to guard against threats that use insider information," which is much more detailed than anything found on the Internet, he said.

"Not only that, we conduct tests observed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and have constantly been able to prove we can safely defend the plant," he said. "People do not know what our strategies are. ... The thing you can't see is our strategy."

DeSantis said the plant has spent $20 million since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to upgrade security.

Neil Sheehan, a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said the agency takes the concerns seriously and is reviewing the latest information, but "it's premature to say what action, if any, we'll take."

In the past, the images were not of high enough resolution to be of concern, he said, but "we'll take another look at it."

"There's a real proliferation of these kinds of photos," he said. "We must assess and reassess the risk as the situation changes."

Portzline thinks nuclear regulators could ask the mapmakers to voluntarily pixelate or blur the images, as they have done for the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

A Microsoft spokeswoman said, "Microsoft provides people and governmental entities the opportunity to report images that may raise concerns and may remove or blur images brought to our attention."

Although it may not always be possible, "Microsoft will review all reports and make changes to the image as quickly as possible," she said.

DeSantis said seeing how good the security is at Three Mile Island could be reassuring to the public, and the management has long considered the satellite images to be part of the public domain.

"We try to balance transparency with our security needs," he said.


Also read the York Sunday News/Daily Record story from June 14, 2009

and Harrisburg Mayor Stephen Reed's response to the safety concerns: