November 15, 2001
OTTAWA (CP) – The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission is studying how to “harden” nuclear reactors against possible attack by a hijacked commercial aircraft.
The new efforts go beyond measures already introduced such as on-site armed guards at nuclear stations, barriers to prevent crash attacks by surface vehicles and visitor screening.
An internal report says the commission is reviewing the capability of Canada’s 22 nuclear power plants to withstand an air attack of the kind carried out Sept. 11.
“This robustness study will include the impact of a modern large commercial aircraft fully loaded with fuel, and the resulting fire, as well as other threats,” says the report.
Commission spokesperson Jim Leveque said “hardening” the reactors could mean literally reinforcing concrete walls around key areas, but it could also refer to changes in procedures.
Given the variation in design at nuclear stations, measures will be tailored for each site, he said.
The commission is also reviewing the risks of theft or sabotage at uranium mines and mills and research reactors, and at 4,000 facilities that use radioactive materials in medical or industrial applications.
Leveque said the commission still has not reached a decision on the feasibility of imposing no-fly zones over nuclear reactors, but discussions are progressing. No-fly zones would involve the placement of surface-to-air missiles around reactors, he said.
The drive for improved security will continue regardless of what happens in the military campaign against Osama bin Laden, who is the main suspect in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, he added.
He said the effort to upgrade security began before those attacks and would continue regardless of bin Laden.
The International Atomic Energy Agency recently warned that terrorist attacks on nuclear reactors are 10 times more likely in the wake of the attacks.
The agency also said radioactive materials commonly used in medicine and industry could be combined with conventional explosives to make a “dirty” bomb.
Canada’s nuclear power stations are located at Gentilly, Que., Point Lepreau, N.B., and three Ontario sites: Bruce, Pickering and Darlington.
There are seven research reactors across the country, a handful of nuclear processing facilities, two accelerators, and several mines and mills, mainly in northern Saskatchewan.