by Russell Lowes, May 21, 2008
It is difficult to expound on the potential for terrorism at our nation’s 104 commercial reactors, without sounding ridiculous – that is, without sounding like you’re making stuff up. That’s because the bloopers that occur are beyond the pale. Sometimes the bloopers are specific actions. Of even more concern, sometimes the bloopers are the very policies set in place. Ponder these real-life, yet hard-to-believe, citations on the safety and security of nuclear energy.
Florida Power & Light is facing $208,000 in federal fines because firing pins were removed from the weapons of Wackenhut [rent-a-cop] guards at its Turkey Point nuclear power plant. The NRC said it was prohibiting two former Wackenhut employees, Jon Brumer and Oscar Aguilar, from working in NRC-regulated facilities for five years because both deliberately violated federal policies by removing the firing pins.
–John Dorschner, Miami Herald, 1/23/08
NRC officials said the fine was being proposed because a 2006 investigation found that security officers employed by Wackenhut Nuclear Services were willfully inattentive to duty (sleeping) from 2004 through 2006.
–Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) News Release, 4/9/08
Two Indian Point nuclear power plant security guards have been suspended for coming to work with cocaine in their systems, a spokesman for the plants' owner said. One guard was tested for drugs after leaving her post unexpectedly and failing to respond when commanders radioed her . . . she was found sick in a bathroom.
–Newsday, “2 Indian Point guards test positive for cocaine, are suspended,” 3/22/08
NRC REMINDS NEW REACTOR APPLICANTS AND EXISTING PLANTS OF NEED TO GUARD AGAINST COUNTERFEIT PARTS
–Title of NRC News Release, 4/8/08
Undercover Congressional investigators set up a bogus company and obtained a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in March that would have allowed them to buy the radioactive materials needed for a so-called dirty bomb. The investigators, from the Government Accountability Office, demonstrated once again that the security measures put in place since the 2001 terrorist attacks to prevent radioactive materials from getting into the wrong hands are insufficient, according to a G.A.O. report.
–Eric Lipton, “A Nuclear Ruse Uncovers Holes in U.S. Security,” New York Times, 7/12/07
Poor safeguards at the Tennessee Valley Authority's Sequoyah Nuclear Plant allowed M-4 assault rifles to enter the facility unchecked and be improperly stored in a secure zone, United Press International has learned. According to the Washington-based Project on Government Oversight, an independent government watchdog, the cargo contained 30 M-4 assault rifles.
–Ben Lando and Donna Borak, “Lapse Allows Guns into Tennessee Nuke Plant,” United Press International, 8/18/06
On the afternoon of Sept. 11, 2001 my phone rang in my office. It was a national reporter who asked me to explain what would happen if a well-fueled jumbo jet were to crash into a reactor. I was honest to my own heart that day and declined to take the interview. One week later Mohammed ElBeredei did the right thing, and was honest too. [The Secretary General] of the International Atomic Energy Agency declared to the world that if a jumbo jet hit a reactor it would cause a Chernobyl-like event and that no reactor in the world could withstand such a hit.
–Mary Olson, Nuclear Information and Resource Service
Planes are not on the list of weapons that reactors must be prepared to survive. One of the five [NRC] commissioners, Gregory B. Jaczko, has called for the panel to require design changes to reduce vulnerability, but the other four [NRC commissioners] seem unpersuaded. At the Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry’s trade association, Adrian Heymer, senior director for new plant deployment, said designers had analyzed existing plants and made many changes that cost little but made the new designs more difficult to attack. But, in general, Mr. Heymer said, protecting against terrorism was a government function.
Speaking about protection against aircraft attacks, Mr. Jaczko said in an interview, “We’ve left it in the hands of Transportation Security Administration, the Federal Aviation Administration and the reactor vendors, who are building these plants, to do what they think is right in this area, and to me that’s clearly not the answer.”
–Matthew L. Wald, “Agency Considers A-Plants’ Vulnerability,” New York Times, 11/9/06
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission concluded Monday that it is impractical for nuclear power plant operators to try to stop terrorists from crashing an airliner into a reactor. Plant operators instead should focus on limiting radioactive release from any such airborne attack, the agency said in a revised defense plan for America's nuclear plants. The agency approved the new defense plan, most of which is secret, by a 5-0 vote at a brief hearing in which it was not discussed in any detail.
–H. Josef Hebert, “Nuclear Agency: Air Defenses Impractical,” Associated Press wire, 1/29/07
The arrests of three men who allegedly tried to sell contraband uranium for $1 million show how a shadowy black market for nuclear components has survived. . . officials tracking the illicit global trade in radioactive materials said the arrests underscored the risk of nuclear substances falling into terrorist hands. Should that happen, "the consequences would be so catastrophic, the world would be a different place the next day," said Richard Hoskins, who supervises a database of stolen, missing, smuggled or unauthorized radioactive materials for the International Atomic Energy Agency. In 2006 alone, the U.N. nuclear watchdog registered 252 reported cases — a 385 percent increase since 2002.
–The Arizona Daily Star/The Associated Press, 3 held as uranium bootleggers; 'dirty bomb' fears are growing, 11/30/07
Large quantities of nuclear materials are inadequately secured in several countries, including Russia and Pakistan. Since 1993, there have been more than 1,300 incidents of illicit trafficking of nuclear materials, including plutonium and highly enriched uranium, both of which can be used to develop an atomic bomb. And these are only the incidents we know about. It is quite possible that a terrorist group could acquire enough nuclear material to build a bomb.
–Jay Davis, Washington Post, “After A Nuclear 9/11,” 3/25/08
. . .Quoted the following from an October 24, 2001 Associated Press story: “Ramzi Yousef, the convicted mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, encouraged followers in 1994 to strike such a plant, officials say. An FBI agent has testified in court that one of Yousef’s followers told him in 1995 of plans to blow up a nuclear plant. And in 1999 the NRC acknowledged to Congress that it had received a credible threat of a terrorist attack against a nuclear power facility.”
In a September 21 press release, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission stated “the NRC did not specifically contemplate attacks by aircraft such as Boeing 757s and 767s and nuclear plants were not designed to withstand such crashes.” A nuclear meltdown could occur in a nuclear plant’s reactor or its spent fuel pool. The pool stores irradiated fuel rods after they are commercially “spent” and become high level nuclear waste.
–Michael Steinberg, “Greenpeace Urges Shut Down Of U.S. Nukes” Z magazine, February 2002
An under-reported attack on a South African nuclear facility last month demonstrates the high risk of theft of nuclear materials by terrorists or criminals. Such a crime could have grave national security implications for the United States or any of the dozens of countries where nuclear materials are held in various states of security.
Shortly after midnight on Nov. 8, four armed men broke into the Pelindaba nuclear facility 18 miles west of Pretoria, a site where hundreds of kilograms of weapons-grade uranium are stored.
–Micah Zenko, “A Nuclear Site Is Breached; South African Attack Should Sound Alarms,” Washington Post, 12/20/07
A sleeping illegal immigrant was accidentally carried onto the property, it was reported Thursday. Edison officials said that a man was found on the San Onofre property. . . on July 25, the North County Times reported. The rail cars carry freight inside the San Onofre grounds and pass by an area where Edison stores spent fuel — highly radioactive material that can no longer produce power [which, however, can still melt down].
–San Diego News/10news.com, “Man Sleeping In Train Car Slips Into San Onofre Power Plant; Plant Changes Security Procedures,” 8/2/07 http://www.10news.com/news/13805969/detail.html?rss=sand&psp=news