NASHVILLE -- Security forces at TVA's Sequoyah and Watts Bar nuclear plants would have authority to use deadly force to prevent sabotage at their facilities under legislation given final approval Thursday by the state Senate.
Senators voted 32-0 for the bill, sponsored by Sen. Ken Yager, R-Harriman. The measure, which was previously approved by the House, now will go to Gov. Bill Haslam for his consideration.
Yager, who represents Rhea County where Watts Bar is located, later called it "critically important that the scope of authority for nuclear facility security officers is clearly spelled out in state law," in a news release.
Sequoyah is in Hamilton County.
"There should be no uncertainty as to whether they have the authority to effectively defend the public as well as themselves, against acts of radioactive sabotage," Yager said.
The Tennessee Valley Authority's general manager of nuclear security, Dr. Mark Finley, recently told lawmakers that officers at Watts Bar and Sequoyah are operating under the "Castle Doctrine."
The self-defense provision allows for the use of force, including deadly force, when threatened within one's home. Finley said the legislation goes beyond that because of the safety implications to the public posed by threats of radioactive sabotage.
Deadly force would be used by plant security as a last resort, he said.
"This would clarify the regulations that they have to operate under and how they can use a continuum of force," Finley said. "The bill would also identify the nuances that have been in place since 9/11, the sophistication of the adversaries, or the bad guys that would attempt to gain entry into our facilities."
Yager said state law should mirror recommendations by federal experts.
"State law needs to mirror the course of action that is recommended by the highly trained federal experts on this matter," Yager said. "This new law would give our security personnel at these facilities the tools and the authority to do their job and protect the public."
Alabama and four other states have similar laws.
In other legislative matters Thursday, the House approved a bill allowing school personnel to participate in student-initiated religious activities on school grounds before and after school.
The bill passed 93-0. The Senate version is in committee next week. Sponsors said the bill was necessary because of overreaction by some school systems that banned a practice by students and parents who gather around flagpoles on school property to pray.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee has said such prayer events are within the law as long as they are initiated and led by students.
Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...