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23 Apr, 2013 16:42

FBI investigating armed attack at Tennessee nuclear plant

FBI investigating armed attack at Tennessee nuclear plant

Authorities are still searching for answers following a bizarre firefight Sunday between a suspicious person and a security guard patrolling a Tennessee nuclear power plant.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has taken the reigns of the probe, but so far authorities say they have yet to identify the mysterious man who fired at least two shots at a security guard early Sunday morning next to a facility on the property of the Tennessee Valley Authority's Watts Bar nuclear power plant, about 60 miles southwest of Knoxville.

The FBI is being joined in the investigation by the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

According to investigators, a Tennessee Valley Authority security officer was routinely patrolling the nuclear plant at around 2 a.m. Sunday when he located a suspicious person in a restricted area, only a few hundred yards from the protected area that houses the nuclear reactor and power production facilities.

“They spoke for a few seconds. The officer didn't believe there was any danger," TVA spokesman Jim Hopson tells reporters.

In a manner of only seconds, though, things quickly changed. The suspect successfully fled the scene seconds later, says Hopson, but not before exchanging gunfire with the security guard.

Hopson says that amid the confrontation, the suspect pulled a handgun and fired at least two shots at the officer and then fled in a nearby flat-bottomed boat docked at a concrete ramp on the shore of the Tennessee River.

“The individual fired on the officer, striking the officer’s vehicle,” Hopson says. “The officer returned fire, and as the officer was calling for backup, the individual fled the scene.”

The security guard was not harmed in the incident, and authorities believe the suspect got away without being hit as well. More than 48 hours later, though, investigators are still not sure what to make of the event.

"To protect the health and safety of the general public, is to ensure those who may want to interfere with our safety system or the reactor itself, don't have that opportunity," Hopson says. “But anytime you have shots taken at a security officer at a nuclear plant, that’s a big issue.”

In the immediate aftermath, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission put the Watts Bar facility on “unusual event” alert, the lowest of the agencies four emergency classifications, but removed that warning after a search of the property later in the afternoon.