US Nuclear Facilities Vulnerable to Terrorist Attack
August 16, 2013
Homeland Security Newswire & Timothy Gardner / Reuters
Some US nuclear facilities are inadequately protected against theft of weapons-grade materials and sabotage by terrorists. Terrorist attacks on vulnerable nuclear facilities could trigger a meltdown or lead to a diversion of bomb-grade uranium. The danger is far from hypothetical since the 9/11 hijackers are known to have considered flying a passenger jet into a US nuclear reactor before they settled on the World Trade Center as their main terror target.
US Nuclear Facilities Vulnerable to Terrorist Attack
Homeland Security Newswire
(August 14, 2013) -- Some US nuclear facilities are inadequately protected against theft of weapons-grade materials and sabotage by terrorists. Terrorist attacks on vulnerable nuclear facilities could trigger a meltdown or lead to a diversion of bomb-grade uranium.
The danger is far from hypothetical since the 9/11 hijackers are known to have considered flying a passenger jet into a US nuclear reactor before they settled on the World Trade Center as their main terror target.
In a July 2013 paper and presentation at the annual meeting of the Institute of Nuclear Materials Management (INMM), the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Project (NPPP), located the LBJ School of Public Affairs, University of Texas at Austin, reported that some US nuclear facilities are inadequately protected against theft of weapons-grade materials and sabotage by terrorists.
The most vulnerable reactors are in California, Connecticut, Florida, Massachusetts, Maryland, Missouri, North Carolina, New York, Texas, and Virginia.
An NPPP release reports that the INMM paper and presentation were both based on a longer NPPP Working Paper #1, “Protecting US Nuclear Facilities from Terrorist Attack: Re-assessing the Current ‘Design Basis Threat’ Approach,” co-authored by former NPPP graduate research assistant Lara Kirkham and NPPP coordinator Alan J. Kuperman.
The NPPP notes that nuclear power plants are not required to protect against a credible terrorist attack such as occurred on 9/11. Even some US government nuclear facilities are not protected against a credible threat because security officials argue that terrorists do not value the sites or that the consequences would not be catastrophic.
To the contrary, the paper explains, it is impossible to know which high-value nuclear targets are preferred by terrorists, or which attacks would have the gravest consequences.
Accordingly, the NPPP recommends that Washington should require a level of protection at all potentially high-consequence US nuclear targets -- including both power reactors and facilities with bomb-grade material -- which is sufficient to defend against a maximum credible terrorist attack.
To meet this standard at commercial facilities, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) should upgrade its “design basis threat,” and the US government should provide the requisite additional security that is not supplied by the private-sector licensees.
The Working Paper served as the basis for a major new report, which NPPP will released at 1 p.m. EDT on Thursday, 15 August 2013.
The report notes that terrorist attacks on vulnerable nuclear facilities could trigger a meltdown or lead to a diversion of bomb-grade uranium. The report stresses that the danger is far from hypothetical since the 9/11 hijackers are known to have considered flying a passenger jet into a US nuclear reactor before they settled on the World Trade Center as their main terror target.
The report was prepared at the request of the US Department of Defense, and its findings have implications for all US power reactors and some university research reactors.
The news event accompanying the report’s release will feature report co-author Alan Kuperman.
You may join the live, phone-based news conference (with full, two-way Q&A) at 1 p.m. EDT/noon CDT on 15 August 2013, by dialing 1 (800) 860-2442. Ask for the “NPPP Nuclear Terrorism” news event. If you cannot participate, a streaming audio replay of the news event will be available by 5 p.m. EDT/4 p.m. CDT on 15 August at http://www.nppp.org.
US Nuclear Power Plants Vulnerable to 9/11-style Attacks: Report
Timothy Gardner / Reuters
WASHINGTON (August 18, 2013) -- US nuclear power plants are not adequately protected from threats, including the theft of bomb-grade material that could be used to make weapons and attacks intended to cause a reactor meltdown, a University of Texas report said on Thursday.
Not one of the country's 104 commercial nuclear reactors or three research reactors is protected against an attack involving multiple players such as the ones carried out by 19 airplane hijackers on 9/11, said the report by the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Project, or NPPP, at the University of Texas, Austin.
The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) only requires power plants to protect against attacks carried out by five or six people, according to the report, entitled Protecting US Nuclear Facilities from Terrorist Attack. In addition, the NRC does not require plants to protect themselves against attacks from high-powered sniper rifles and rocket-propelled grenades.
The three research reactors, including one in Gaithersburg, Maryland, 24 miles from the White House, are powered by highly enriched uranium that if stolen could be used to make nuclear weapons, the report said.
Power utilities have argued they have done all they can to ensure security at plants without dramatically raising power bills, adding that it is the responsibility of the US government to defend against attacks, said Alan Kuperman, the NPPP coordinator and a co-author of the report. "The problem is that's not occurring," he said.
Kuperman said the government had made some progress since September 11, 2001, when nuclear plants only had to protect against attacks by three people. The Pentagon and Department of Energy have also recently worked on a common approach to protecting nuclear weapons and fissile materials that could be made into nuclear weapons, he said.
"That is a good sign of progress, but that does not address the concern we have about nuclear reactors," Kuperman said.
Attacks could take place not only at reactors, but at spent waste pools, where water drainage could lead to a meltdown and a wide release of dangerous radioactivity. They could also come from the sea, the report said.
The NRC called the report, which was requested by the Pentagon, a "rehash of arguments from a decade ago," when the agency and the country were reconsidering nuclear power plant security in the wake of 9/11.
"The report contains no new information or insight," said David McIntyre, an NRC spokesman. He said the agency had strengthened security requirements for commercial nuclear power plants and was confident that these were adequately protected.
Senator Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat and a longtime critic of nuclear power plant safety, said more could be done to make the industry safer.
"After the September 11th attacks, we discovered that al-Qaeda had considered attacking a nuclear power plant in the US, and we know that terrorists continue to search for targets that would cause the greatest level of damage to our people and economy," he said in a statement.
"This new report details something that has concerned me all along -- that the United States is inadequately prepared for a terrorist attack on our nuclear plants and there is much more to do to guarantee that our nuclear power plants and facilities are safe and secure."
A spokesman for the nuclear energy sector's trade group, the Nuclear Energy Institute, said security at nuclear facilities has improved markedly since 9/11, with 9,000 well-armed and highly trained officers defending the country's 62 plants.
"These forces, a large percentage from military and law enforcement backgrounds, are drilled and tested regularly to ensure their readiness," the spokesman wrote in blog post Thursday.
The spokesman added that 9/11-scale attacks do not pose a vulnerability for the industry but would be a job for the highest levels of national security.
The NPPP report recommends that Washington require all nuclear facilities, public and private, to protect against maximum credible attacks and provide additional security not supplied by private industry.
The report is available at: here.
Reporting by Timothy Gardner; additional reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by David Brunnstrom and Ken Wills)
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