U.S. urged to shield reactors

Tom Doggett
Toronto Star
September 26, 2001

WASHINGTON – The United States’ 103 nuclear power reactors are vulnerable to acts of terrorism and the government should immediately station soldiers and missiles around each plant for protection, two watchdog groups said yesterday.

Nuclear power plants are located in 31 states and provide about 20 per cent of the nation’s electricity supply.

The Washington-based Nuclear Control Institute and the Los Angeles-based Committee to Bridge the Gap urged the government to immediately station 30 to 40 National Guard troops around each nuclear plant to protect it from attacks.

The watchdog groups also said the government should be prepared to deploy anti-aircraft weapons to shoot down after

Another needed measure is to carefully re-check the background of all nuclear plant employees and contractors to prevent internal sabotage.

U.S. soldiers would have about seven seconds fire a missile and destroy a commercial airliner that is one mile from a reactor and travelling 805 km/hr, the groups said.

The groups, which monitor the spread of nuclear weapons, said they prepared a detailed analysis of which U.S. nuclear plants were most vulnerable. However, that report will be given only to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), they said.

“It is prudent to assume, especially after the horrific, highly coordinated attacks of Sept. 11, that (Osama) bin Laden’s soldiers have done their homework and are fully capable to attack nuclear plants for maximum effect,” said Paul Leventhal, president of the Nuclear Control Institute.

The groups underscored what they see as an immediate danger by noting that nearly half the U.S. nuclear plants in routine NRC-supervised tests failed to repel mock attacks.

“The new threat should now be evident to all, and the country can afford to wait no longer,” said Daniel Hirsch, president of the Committee to Bridge the Gap. “The vulnerabilities at these plants can, and must, be closed now.”

U. S. plants increased security after the Sept. 11 attacks, which left nearly 7,000 people dead or missing.

“We take the security threat very seriously,” said NRC spokesperson Victor Dricks.

“In light of the terrorist attacks, it’s only prudent that we look at our security regulations to make sure they’re adequate to meet the challenge.”

The NRC has acknowledged it is unsure if U.S. nuclear power plants could withstand the crash of large, commercial airplanes, such as the kind that attacked the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

The nuclear facilities, all of which are more than 30 years old, were designed to withstand tornadoes, hurricanes and earthquakes.

A direct, high-speed hit by a large passenger jet “would in fact have a high likelihood of penetrating a containment building” that houses a nuclear power reactor, said Edwin Lyman, scientific director of the Nuclear Control Institute. A plane’s fuselage would likely crumble on impact, but its engines, made of stronger steel, would probably break through a reactor’s concrete shell.

In such an event, the release of radiation could result in widespread effects downwind from the plant.

 

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