The Associated Press reports, on the basis of documents from an as yet unnamed source, that security at the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant was extraordinarily lax during Howard Dean’s tenure as governor:
“The warnings…began in 1991 when a group of students were brought into a secure area of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant without proper screening. On at least two occasions, a gun or mock terrorists passed undetected into the plant during security tests.
“During Dean’s final year in office in 2002, an audit concluded that despite a decade of repeated warnings of poor safety at Vermont Yankee, Dean’s administration was poorly prepared for a nuclear disaster….Security was so lax at Vermont Yankee that in August 2001, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission staged a drill in which three mock terrorists gained access to the plant. The agency gave Vermont Yankee the worst security rating among the nation’s 103 reactors.”
This hurts Dean badly, I think, for several reasons. First, the story is tailor-made for a 30-second television commercial. Second, Dean told the New York Times Magazine, in a story that appeared today:
”The line of attack is not Iraq, though there’ll be some of that. The line of attack will be more, ‘What have you done to make us feel safer?’ I’m going to outflank him to the right on homeland security, on weapons of mass destruction and on the Saudis. Our model is to get around the president’s right, as John Kennedy did to Nixon.”
Whether Dean ever could have been taken seriously as a national security candidate is, of course, doubtful, but today’s story makes it even less plausible.
And finally, in order to excuse Dean’s own lassitute pre-September 11, he has to let President Bush off the hook as well:
“As many have said before, hindsight is 20-20 and no one could have predicted what could have happened on a terrible day in September 2001,” Carson [Dean’s spokesman] said. “In retrospect, every state in the entire country could have been safer.”
Of course, one problem with the Vermont Yankee story is that the poor security situation there did not end after September 2001, but continued, apparently, through Howard Dean’s term as governor.
It isn’t clear whether this AP story is based on documents that were leaked from Vermont agencies, or whether the materials were publicly available and someone merely pointed them out to the AP reporters. But I assume the story is part of the “stop Dean” effort by more mainstream Democrats. So far, nothing they have done has put a dent in Dean’s momentum, and this probably won’t either, especially because Dean’s constituency doesn’t really care about security. The last thing they want him to do is to get around to Bush’s right on the war on terror. But you can bet that if Dean gets the nomination, we’ll hear a lot about the Vermont Yankee plant.
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