107 U.S. Nuclear Reactors Vulnerable to Attack

August 15, 2013

By Polly Ross Hughes
Texas Energy Report

Study finds South Texas Project defenseless from potential sea-based terrorist strike

More than a decade after the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history, all 104 of the nation’s commercial nuclear reactors and three research reactors remain inadequately protected from ‘credible’ terrorist attacks, according to the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Project at the University of Texas at Austin.

The report commissioned by the Pentagon found that terrorists could wage a sabotage attack to cause a nuclear meltdown or steal bomb-grade materials to make a nuclear weapon.

"More than 10 years have come and gone since the events of September 2001, and America’s civilian nuclear facilities remain unprotected against a terrorist attack of that scale", said Alan J. Kuperman, coordinator of the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Project and co-author of the report, ?Protecting U.S. Nuclear Facilities from Terrorist Attack: Re-assessing the Current ?Design Basis Threat? Approach.?

"Instead, our civilian reactors prepare only against a much smaller-scale attack, known as the ‘design basis threat’, while the government fails to provide supplementary protection against a realistic 9/11-type attack," Kuperman continued in a release issued with the report. ?"It would be a tragedy if the United States had to look back after such an attack on a nuclear reactor and say that we could have and should have done more to prevent the catastrophe." The South Texas Project near Bay City in Matagorda County is among 11 nuclear power reactors deemed at highest risk. The South Texas Nuclear Generating Station, owned by NRG Energy and the cities of San Antonio and Austin, is among eight that research shows are vulnerable to water-borne attacks. The others listed as unprotected from attacks from sea include Diablo Canyon in California, St. Lucie in Florida, Brunswick in North Carolina, Surry in Virginia, Indian Point in New York, Millstone in Connecticut and Pilgrim in Massachusetts.

Three civilian research reactors pose a danger and raise particular concerns because they are fueled with bomb-grade uranium, including the National Institute of Standards and Technology, located just two dozen miles from the White House. The others that will continue to use bomb-grade uranium for at least another decade are the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge and a research reactor at the University of Missouri in Columbia. Unlike military facilities that hold the same materials, the research reactors are not defended against a high-impact or lesser terrorist threats, the research shows.

"Less than two dozen miles from the White House and Capitol Hill, a nuclear reactor contains bomb-grade uranium, but it is not required to protect against even the lesser ‘design basis threat’ of terrorism," said Kuperman. "We know where the weak spots are when it comes to nuclear facilitates, so it would be the height of irresponsibility to fail to take action now."

Despite the toll of the 9/11 attacks, most operators of nuclear reactors are not required to defend against attacks from airplanes, attacks from sea or even against easy-to-obtain, high-power sniper rifles, he pointed out. Cost of such security poses one hurdle but security officials often claim that terrorist don’t value the sites or that the effects of potential attacks would not be catastrophic.

Kuperman disagrees and says it is not possible to know which nuclear targets terrorists might prefer or which types of attacks would pose the greatest harm. The NPPP recommends that all potentially high-value targets, including both nuclear power reactors and civilian research facilities, should be protected against maximum terrorist attacks. He suggested the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission upgrade its protection standards and that the federal government provide needed extra security.

The full report can be found here.

Copyright August 15, 2013, Harvey Kronberg, www.texasenergyreport.com, All rights are reserved

Fair Use Notice
This document contains copyrighted material whose use has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. SEED Coalition is making this article available in our efforts to advance understanding of ecological sustainability, human rights, economic democracy and social justice issues. We believe that this constitutes a "fair use" of the copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. If you wish to use this copyrighted material for purposes of your own that go beyond "fair use", you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.