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Stock Drop & Roil


NRG's VP Kevin Howell mysteriously dumped almost 25,000 company shares last week, selling them of at $43 per after a failed attempt to buy back $4.7 billion of senior debt. Two days later the executive VP followed suit with 6,500 shares in the same pay range. Still, the new nuclear-plant owner and prospective operator of twin newbie nukes at South Texas Nuclear Project has some more than the sale to explain away, as we write in our Queque this week. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is asking plant operators to elaborate on their security policies, with a special focus on sleeping guards, I'm told.

"Several of our licensees have had instances of inattentive security officers," said Roy Zimmerman, director of the Office of Nuclear Security and Incident Response. "While multiple layers of defense at each site maintained its security, the NRC is concerned that, collectively, these incidents are a sign that some licensees are not giving appropriate attention to the effectiveness of this portion of their security programs."

For San Antonio's 40-percent power solution, South Texas Nuclear Project, there will likely be detailed references regarding why one-third of private security contractor Wackenhut's guards have repeatedly stated that they knew of fellow officers who had been harassed by management for raising potential security concerns at the plant.

Now such harassment isn't new in the nuke world. It was endemic during the construction of both STNP and North Texas' Comanche Peak. Dated but thoroughly fascinating reading on the history of both Texas plants til about 2003 can be found at Texas Radiation Online.

In 2002, the NRC signaled out three Wackenhut-guarded nuclear power plants for in-depth review due to the high number of security-related employee allegations, according to the Service Employees International Union.

In the 2001 survey, Wackenhut was identified as a "Priority Level 1" organization – the worst possible result - because of its "relatively low" results compared to the composite rating for STP as a whole on each of the four dimensions surveyed, 1) nuclear safety culture, 2) safety conscious work environment, 3) general culture and work environment, and 4) leadership, management and supervisory skills and practices. `5`  Wackenhut's scores required "further evaluation" and "remedial action in the near-term."  Wackenhut was also identified as a "Priority Level 3" organization because of its low ratings compared to industry standards.`6`

In the 2003 survey, obtained by SEIU through a Freedom of Information Act request, Wackenhut's already poor performance deteriorated further.  Wackenhut was again rated as a "Priority Level 1" organization because of its "relatively low" results compared with STP's general performance.

Moreover, its performance against the industry worsened from "Priority Level 3" to "Priority Level 2." `7`  As a result, STP's president told NRC that "formal action plans" will be prepared to address the survey results.`8`

In both 2001 and 2003, 31 percent of Wackenhut employees surveyed at the South Texas plant said they knew of someone who experienced a negative reaction from supervision or management for having raised an issue or concern related to nuclear safety.`9`  …

In response to a Freedom of Information Act Request filed in July 2004 by SEIU, however, NRC was unable to locate any documents indicating that STP's promised formal action plans had been developed for Wackenhut or that evaluation of its performance or remedial action had been taken.`10`

Check the above citations yourself at Eye on Wackenhut.

The stock dump wasn't related to the company's withdrawal of a planned wind farm in Gilispie County, where hardcore sight-liners fought off the monstrous windmills for scenic and tourism-related concerns. (I know that I would never set foot in Fredericksburg again with lethargically turning blades feeding green energy into the power grid miles in the distance. Okay. That's a joke, for you cold calculists.)

Perhaps they'll go after those "90 percent" of other Texas counties where State Senator Troy Fraser says wind farms are wanted. Just don't try 'em in the Gulf or near the coast, where the birders will bust you every which way, in more shameful NIMBYism.

The company, anticipating the day CO2 is regulated as a pollutant, is working on a DOE-assisted project to carbon-capture  five percent of C02 emissions at the WA Parish coal plant outside Sugar Land. The slurry they save will be pumped underground to recover more oil from depleteing oil fields.

NRG is also busy sassing for a new coal plant in Limestone County, recovering from being sued into cleaning coal plants in New York, and fighting for a remodeled gas plant in Southern California. Aside from scrubbing filthy coal, the company is also obviously heavily involved trying to double-up STNP: Wonder of wonders, Global Warming salve and salvation? Not likely.

Of the stock dump, I found two things of interest. One: As expected, NRG shares are down more than $3 at the $40 level today. The other was the explanatory note in the Chronicle's brief on the first stock drop.

The stock sale was conducted under a prearranged 10b5-1 trading plan which allows a company insider to set up a program in advance for such transactions and proceed with them even if he or she comes into possession of material nonpublic information.

Now whether your year-end season be secular or semi-sacred, I'll leave you with a few more thoughts on nuclear power before the next round of hearings and pony shows start up in the New Year.

It's something to consider, the future. I recommend you enjoy it now.

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