Terrorists had diagrams of nuclear power plants

Paul Leventhal
Nuclear Control Institute
January 30, 2002

US President says terrorists had diagrams of nuclear power plants;
NRC must move now on major upgrade of security aginst attack

Washington, D.C.—Last night, President Bush disclosed that “diagrams of American nuclear power plants” have been found among the items left by terrorists in Afghanistan, but he failed to announce what measures he will take to prevent these and other plants from being successfully hit, said Paul Leventhal, president of the Nuclear Control Institute.

“Unfortunately, neither the White House nor the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) have taken protective measures commensurate with the threat or with the unthinkable consequences of a successful attack on one of these plants,” Leventhal continued. “These plants are vulnerable today, and that is intolerable.”

“U.S. nuclear power plants need immediate military protection—the placement of National Guard troops or other military forces in sufficient numbers to provide a visible show of force and a credible deterrent against attack from the land, air or water,” Leventhal said. “Anti-aircraft weapons, under strict rules of engagement and command and control, are also needed as a last-resort measure in the event fighter interceptors cannot catch up with a jumbo jet headed for a suicidal hit on a plant,” he said.

For months, the NRC has been conducting a “top to bottom” review of its security procedures but so far has failed to take any action—-beyond the original heightened state of alert it requested of plant operators on September 11—to require the substantially increased security that is needed now to defeat a large, coordinated attack on a scale of the 9/11 attacks. Thus far, nuclear power plants have assigned some additional guards and patrols, often by having guards work double shifts, and have made use of a few state troopers and National Guard troops. In a number of states, the National Guard troops have since been withdrawn. Despite industry claims that the plants are protected by “well-paid, paramilitary forces,” the guards at some plants are “rent-a-cops” receiving low wages, in some cases less than janitors are paid in these plants.

He noted that current law and regulations do not require the private operators of these plants to defend against “an enemy of the United States,” whether a nation or a person. “It should be obvious,” Leventhal said, “that the U.S. government must step in with military protection or it must be prepared to shut the plants down. Allowing the plants to continue operating with inadequate security, in some cases only tens of miles from major cities like New York, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Chicago, Charlotte and Los Angeles, is unconscionable. Millions of people are at risk in the event of a successful attack causing severe damage to the reactor core or spent fuel pool at these plants.”

Nuclear Control Institute presented a detailed critique of the poor state of nuclear power plant security in testimony, presented jointly with the California-based Committee to Bridge the Gap, on December 5 before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations [http://www.nci.org/01NCI/12/react-prot.htm]. A new NCI website on nuclear terrorism [http://www.nci.org/nuketerror.htm] presents additional documents on NCI’s 20-year effort to upgrade security at these plants and to reduce other vulnerabilities to terrorists going nuclear.

Due to the NRC’s inaction in the face of a real and growing threat, Senators Reid, Lieberman and Clinton and Representatives Markey and Lowey have introduced legislation which requires an increase in security to meet the new threat and also federalizes the nuclear plant security forces. [http://www.house.gov/markey/iss_terrorism_bill011129.pdf]

Over the past few years, about half of the nuclear power plants have failed mock terrorist attacks in drills supervised by the NRC. In spite of this poor record against a much smaller adversary than the one encountered on September 11, the NRC has taken steps to transfer supervision of these tests to the nuclear industry, a move that will further reduce security preparedness. Despite a need to demonstrate increased preparedness since September 11, the NRC has suspended the tests involving mock attacks, as well as tests of emergency planning around nuclear power plants, and has given no indication when these tests will be reinstated.

The Indian Point nuclear power plant, located just 35 miles north of mid-town Manhattan, has 20 million people living within a 50 mile radius of the plant. “A core meltdown caused by a terrorist attack on the Indian Point plant could cause tens of thousands of cancer deaths and property losses of more than a trillion dollars. “By comparison, the $1 billion a month cited by the President as the cost of the war against terrorism in Afghanistan is peanuts,” Leventhal said. NCI is the principal co-petitioner with the Hudson Riverkeeper in a request that the NRC shut down the Indian Point plant until a major upgrade in security at the plant has been developed and successfully tested.

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