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U.S. Nuclear Power Plants Vulnerable To 9/11-Style Attacks: Report

posted 16 Aug 2013, 10:08 by Mpelembe Admin   [ updated 16 Aug 2013, 10:09 ]

University of Texas report says U.S. nuclear power plants are not adequately protected from threats.

MIDDLETOWN, PENNSYLVANIAUNITED STATES (FILE- MARCH 17, 2011) (REUTERS) -  U.S. 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 (August 15).

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 TexasAustin.

The U.S. 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 U.S. 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 GaithersburgMaryland, 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 theU.S. government to defend against attacks, said Alan Kuperman, the NPPP coordinator and a co-author of the report.

Kuperman said the government had made some progress since September 11, 2001, when nuclear plants only had to protect against attacks by three people. ThePentagon 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.

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.

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.

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.


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