People caught trespassing at the state's four nuclear power plants would face increased fines and potential prison time under legislation approved by a state Senate committee earlier this week.
The bill would make trespassing on nuclear power plant property a third-degree crime rather than a fourth degree crime, increasing fines from $10,000 to $15,000 and possible imprisonment from 18 months to between three and five years.
Introduced by state Sen. Joseph Kyrillos Jr., R-Middlesex, Monmouth, last year but just approved Monday by the Senate Law and Public Safety and Veterans' Affairs Committee, S-848 amends a section of state statute that lists the penalties for several different types of unlicensed entry violations.
State Sen. Christopher Connors, R-Ocean, Burlington, Atlantic, is co-sponsoring the bill with his districtmate, Assemblyman Brian Rumpf.
"I believe it adds an additional deterrent," Rumpf said.
The amended statute would remove trespassing at nuclear power plants from a list of fourth-degree crimes that includes unlicensed entry to a school, research facility, home, waste-treatment facility, public water facility or other such facilities. It would then add a sentence to make trespassing on a nuclear electric generating plant a third-degree crime.
Officials could think of few, if any, incidents of trespassing at the Oyster Creek Generating Station in Lacey Township, Ocean County, in its more than 40-year history.
"Frankly, no," Lacey Mayor John Parker said when asked if he could remember any incidents since the plant was built in town. "I don't think we've had any trouble at all."
Rumpf said no particular event caused him to support the bill.
"I just think it's good planning," he said. "Quite frankly, it's sometimes good to be proactive, before something were to occur."
Parker said he hopes the bill distinguishes between those secretly trying to gain access to plant property and those mistakenly walking on the wide acreage of plant-owned property outside the secured area.
Plant owner Exelon Corp. owns hundreds of acres around the property, on both sides of Route 9, and over the years police have been dispatched to investigate suspicious activity on that unsecured land.
Parker said those people have often turned out to be fishermen or hunters. Police officials could not be reached last week to supply statistics on trespassing incidents on plant property.
The new and current laws include language defining the offense as unlicensed entry to structures, and goes on to define a defiant trespasser as one who knows he or she should not be in a place and enters or stays anyway.
To enter the secure area of the plant, a trespasser would have to get through numerous barriers, checkpoints and paramilitary security officers. That includes miles of concrete barriers, chain-link fences with razor wire and raised towers where armed guards are constantly stationed and survey practically every part of the facility, spokesman David Benson said.
Benson also said the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission requires a comprehensive security program that resolves situations independent of outside assistance, and that Exelon has spent more than $100 million dollars at its 10 facilities to upgrade security over the past few years.
Nevertheless, he said his company would be in favor of strengthening any punishments for trespassing on company property.
"We certainly support a penalty for trespassing on critical infrastructure in the United States," he said.
The bill moves on to the full state Senate and also will be introduced in the Assembly, where it will likely be handled by the Homeland Security and State Preparedness Committee.
New Jersey's three other nuclear plants are the Salem 1 and 2 and Hope Creek generating stations in Lower Alloways Creek Township, Salem County.
Contact Lee Procida: