Security rises at oil, gas fields, nuclear plants

Robert Fife
National Post
September 27, 2001

OTTAWA – Canada has dramatically tightened security at vital oil fields, nuclear power plants and hydroelectric facilities to prevent possible terrorist strikes that could disable the Canadian and U.S. economies, Ralph Goodale, the Minister of Natural Resources, said yesterday.

The federal and provincial governments acted quickly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to protect vulnerable economic installations such as Alberta’s vast oil and gas fields, which supply more energy to the U.S. market than Saudi Arabia.

Security has also been increased at major hydroelectric dams in Quebec and at 20 nuclear reactors in Ontario as well as electrical utilities in other provinces. New Brunswick and Quebec each operate one Candu reactor.

”Security measures were increased immediately. They remain in place,” Mr. Goodale told reporters. ”Obviously I cannot discuss what they are or what their nature is, but the process is ongoing and there is a high degree of collaboration among all the jurisdictions.”

Also, Atomic Energy of Canada has imposed a secure air space of 3,000 feet and 3.5 nautical miles around its research campus at Chalk River, Ont., said spokeswoman Louise Duhamel.

Any aircraft must get permission to come within that space. Public tours and visits to the Chalk River facility have also been halted.

The campus, home to nuclear material and Canada’s top nuclear scientists, was already under extremely tight security. Officials say CF-18 fighter jets can be scrambled to ward off any attack.

Mr. Goodale would not say whether military personnel have been deployed to Canadian nuclear facilities, but acknowledged Ottawa has not ruled out the serious threat of a terrorist-manned plane hitting a reactor.

”Obviously that is an issue that is at least a hypothetical concern that people want to make sure that we address,” Mr. Goodale said. ”I have spoken to both the president of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission and also the president of the AECL [Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd.] to satisfy myself about their level of confidence in terms of the safety and security arrangements that are in place at a heightened level.”

As early as 1987, Iran threatened attacks against U.S. reactors, and recent trial testimony in New York revealed Osama bin Laden’s training camps are offering instruction in urban warfare against enemy installations that include power plants.

In the United States, two nuclear watchdog groups warned the 103 nuclear power reactors in the country are vulnerable to terrorist attacks because regulatory bodies have failed to implement adequate security.

The Nuclear Control Institute in Washington and the Los Angeles-based Committee to Bridge the Gap say they have tried over the past 17 years to persuade the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and commercial nuclear plant operators to improve their defences against possible terrorist strikes.

The two groups outlined specific proposals to foil any terrorist, including immediate use of National Guard troops to deter attacks from land and water, deployment of anti-aircraft weapons against suicide attacks, and a thorough revetting of all plant employees and contractors to protect against sabotage by insiders.

However, U.S. officials downplayed the possibility of serious damage, saying both nuclear reactors and outdoor casks used to store spent nuclear fuel are shielded by layers of steel and concrete.

”It hasn’t been analyzed whether the casks could withstand a crash from a large commercial aircraft, but the casks are robust,” said Sue Gagner of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in Washington. ”If a cask were breached, any impact would be localized.”

Mr. Goodale said the RCMP and Canadian Security Intelligence Service are co-operating with the National Energy Board and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. The overall security is being handled by the Office of Critical Infrastructure Protection and Emergency Preparedness, which falls under the umbrella of the Department of National Defence.

Premier Ralph Klein said last week that Alberta’s energy industry fires much of the nation’s economy and is becoming increasingly important to the United States. He said the province wouldn’t rule out asking Ottawa to commit troops to protect oil sites if deemed necessary.


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