Terrorist threats to Nuclear power plants
To: Bob Aldrich <firstname.lastname@example.org>, email@example.com, "Barbara Boxer, Senator (CA, D)" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
From: "Russell D. Hoffman" <email@example.com>
Subject: Comments on nuclear terrorism by Jack Shannon, Harvey Wasserman, Eugene Carroll
Cc: firstname.lastname@example.org, "Russell Wise, NRC" <email@example.com>, "Elmo Collins" <firstname.lastname@example.org>, "Pat Gwynn" <email@example.com>, "Clanon, Paul" <firstname.lastname@example.org>, "Ajello, Julian E." <JEA@cpuc.ca.gov>, "Wong, Zee Z." <email@example.com>, "Clark, Richard W." <firstname.lastname@example.org>, "NRC" <email@example.com>
To: Bob Aldrich <firstname.lastname@example.org>
From: Russell Hoffman, Concerned Citizen
Re: Terrorist threats to Nuclear power plants
Date: September 18th, 2001
Regarding your response to me yesterday concerning my fears of a terrorist attack on California's nuclear power plants, please read these three items by John P. Shannon (USMC (ret.), Nuclear Physicist/Nuclear Engineer), Harvey Wasserman (author of The Last Energy War (Seven Stories Press)), and Eugene Carroll, (Rear Admiral (ret.), served as director of U. S. military operations in Europe and the Middle East).
Your statement to me yesterday was hollow and meaningless. I expect a proper response from my government. The threat is real. You need to get real too.
1) Comments sent to me by John P. Shannon
2) Article written by Harvey Wasserman
These following statement is by:
John P. Shannon
Nuclear Physicist/Nuclear Engineer
Former Manager of Health and Safety at the Nuclear Navy's Knolls Atomic Power
At 07:57 AM 9/18/01 , Jack Shannon wrote:
Nuclear Power plants have never been designed to withstand the impact of
anything close to a 747 slamming into a Nuclear Power Plant. If the NRC/DOE
have such studies they are now obligated to make them public. I doubt that
the DOE/NRC has even investigated the effects of a 3.5 inch standard military
hand held antitank rocket on a concrete containment. I haven't done the
calculations either, but I would bet that a 3.5 inch rocket, designed to
penetrate several inches of tank armor, would go through a containment vessel
like a knife through butter. The American people cannot make decisions about
Nuclear Power in a vacuum, which is exactly what we have been asked to do for
years. With the terrorists attacks we can no longer tolerate that kind of
Furthermore, Boiling Water Reactors store several reactor core loads of
depleted fissile and fission products above the reactors, completely
unprotected. If a plane, any plane, crashes into these storage pools very
high radiation level material will be spread far and wide. The consequences
of such an accident are too horrible to contemplate.
We should also note that the track record of the NRC/DOE and many State
agencies have a somewhat less than stellar reputation when it comes to the
subject of Nuclear Power Plant safety
John P. Shannon
Nuclear Physicist/Nuclear Engineer
Former Manager of Health and Safety at the Nuclear Navy's Knolls Atomic Power
This next item is an article by Harvey Wasserman, AlterNet:
Date: Tue, 18 Sep 2001 01:17:41 EDT
Subject: AlterNet: SHUT THE REACTORS!
CONFRONTING THE NEW REALITY OF NUCLEAR TERRORISM
Harvey Wasserman, AlterNet
Though few are now talking about it, atomic power is high on the list of
realities forever transformed by the terrorist nightmare of September 11.
Despite saturation media coverage, both the Bush administration and
mainstream commentators have been ominously silent about the most obvious
terrorist target of all: our 103 licensed commercial nuclear plants.
The four jetliners hijacked September 11 flew perilously close to at least a
dozen operating reactors, from Pilgrim, Millstone and Indian Point, between
Boston and New York, to Surry, North Anna and Calvert Cliffs near
Washington, to Peach Bottom, Limerick and Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania.
Though the industry has claimed the containment domes on such plants might
withstand a jet crash, no credible engineer would agree. In fact, it's
inconceivable any of them could survive a direct hit followed by a long
jet-fueled fire such as the ones that destroyed the World Trade Center.
And had the terrorists chosen to target one of those reactors instead of the
World Trade Center or the Pentagon, we would be talking about tens of
thousands of dead, hundreds of thousands -- if not millions -- of long-term
cancers, and hundreds of billions of dollars in property damage.
In short, a holocaust from which this nation might never recover.
Such fearful realities have been integral to the debate over nuclear power
since its inception. Early reactor opponents argued as early as the 1960s
that reactors in populated areas might be terrorist targets. In the 1970s an
airline hijacker talked about crashing into a nuclear facility. In the 1980s
the Ayatollah Khomeini threatened to hit "nuclear targets" inside the U.S.
In the early 1990s followers of Osama Bin Laden are believed to have trained
within a hundred miles of Three Mile Island.
In recent years, ground-level security at U.S. reactor sites has become
notoriously lax. Journalists and anti-nuke activists have easily penetrated
the environs of operating nukes. In many cases, a simple bomb or someone
wrecking random havoc inside a hijacked control room could do
But now the prospect of an attack from the air has taken things to a new
level. Even in the unlikely event a containment dome could withstand a hit
from a jetliner, the ensuing fire would almost certainly lead to a meltdown
or explosion. Nor would it be necessary to hit the dome at all. Pools
holding thousands of tons of high-level fuel rods sit at most reactors sites
with no containment whatsoever. Merely disrupting their cooling systems
could cause a melt-down, as might an assault on turbine housings, emergency
power generators, communications systems and many other parts of the
immensely complex and fragile infrastructure that keeps nuclear plants from
At least one type of newly proposed reactor -- the pebble bed design -- is
being offered with no containment at all. Small wonder those proposing to
build new atomic plants want Congress to approve an extension of federal
liability insurance, insulating them from the consequences of a catastrophic
accident. In other words, because no private insurer will take them on, the
industry wants taxpayer protection against paying for a disaster, one we now
see could all-too-easily come from terrorism even on a far less demanding
scale than what happened September 11.
And what would be the real consequences of such a disaster? Most American
reactors sit in areas that were once isolated, but which have now been
surrounded by suburban sprawl. Evacuation planning is threadbare and
essentially unworkable. Most mass escape schemes are built around the
expected lead-time offered by a mechanical failure, a luxury no terrorist
attack would provide.
Chernobyl Unit Four, which spewed an apocalyptic radioactive cloud over much
of Europe and into the jetstream (the fallout was detected across the
northern U.S. within 10 days), had been operating only for four years. Its
internal radioactive inventory was thus comparatively small.
Most U.S. reactors have operated far longer, and have accumulated far more
deadly radiation, both inside their containments and in the nearby spent
fuel pools. An explosion in any one of them would almost certainly throw far
greater quantities of lethal radiation downwind and into the planet's
At Chernobyl, the death toll has been impossible to calculate, but may
ultimately stretch into the millions due to the long-term effects of cancer,
malformations and stillbirths. Hundreds of square miles remain permanently
uninhabitable. The financial cost estimates run in the range of $500
billion, and growing.
But in the U.S., surrounding population levels are far higher, and property
values are in another range of magnitude. In short, it is virtually
impossible to calculate the damage that could be done. But it would dwarf
what we have just experienced at the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
Today the U.S. gets about 20 percent of its electricity -- less than 10
percent of its total energy -- from atomic power. Ironically, the recent
electricity crisis in California has shown that a focused public can rapidly
cut into its use of power. Since prices skyrocketed, Californians have used
conservation and efficiency to chop as much as 10 percent of their
consumption, with more savings still coming in. Safe alternative forms of
generation, particularly wind power and photovoltaic (solar) cells, are also
now cost effective on a mass scale.
In short, we could turn off our nuclear plants today and get by. There may
be some short-term inconveniences. But nothing that would compare with the
ultimate horror of a nuclear disaster caused by the kind of terrorism we
have just seen.
Indeed, even though this administration doesn't seem to want to talk about
it, the unthinkable has now become tangible. In the name of national
security and of basic sanity, all U.S. reactors must be shut as quickly as
Harvey Wasserman is author of The Last Energy War (Seven Stories
This next item, by Eugene Carroll, was posted on various nuke-related listservs.
Published on Tuesday, September 18, 2001 in the St Paul Pioneer Press
Nuclear Plants Could Be Next Targets of Terrorists
by Eugene Carroll
In the wake of the attacks that destroyed the World Trade Towers in New York and damaged the Pentagon, American security officials have begun to think in earnest about some of the other targets that future terrorists might attack.
Among those that come to mind are America's huge oil refineries, which could be set aflame with catastrophic economic and environmental consequences. Also in the crosshairs of terrorists saboteurs are the country's communication centers and banking systems, which are essential to domestic and international commerce. But by far, the most dangerous, vulnerable and significant targets are the 104 nuclear power plants in the United States.
While these plants are said to be secure, too much evidence suggests otherwise.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission administers a number of supervisory programs to ensure security, chief among them being an Operational Safeguards Response Evaluation inspection program.
Under the OSRE routine, a nuclear plant is warned that a simulated sabotage effort will be made against their installation by a team of would-be saboteurs in a force-on-force exercise. These teams are composed of both NRC and private contractor personnel under the direction of a David Orrik, a retired Navy SEAL.
In approximately half of recent tests, the intruders succeeded in defeating the security measures, even reaching the central control room on occasion. The NRC downplays these security failures by claiming that they always lead to positive improvements and overall security is adequate. Indeed, so sanguine are NRC officials that they are starting a pilot program to allow private reactor operators to conduct their own security evaluations. Since when have private companies voluntarily disclosed security shortcomings and made costly improvements to their security systems and personnel training?
Compare this gentlemanly security program with the fierce determination of a trained team of terrorists attacking a reactor without warning and taking it over long enough to disable the safety controls. At that point, a major Chernoble-syle disaster would be all but assured.
Now that the initial shock and sadness of Tuesday's horror have given way to anger, many members of Congress are calling for aggressive military action directed against not only the responsible terrorist organization but against the nation providing them shelter and support. Though popular here at home, such action will not provide any protection against further terrorist actions. If anything, it may well intensify the cycle of attack and reprisal.
Whatever action is finally taken, the first objective should be to protect American citizens in the United States. But terrorists are not single minded nor stupid. Seeing a major security effort in process at the airports, they will simply look elsewhere for vulnerable targets -- like the country's nuclear power plants. These need protection -- not by their owners but by government forces.
The sad truth is we cannot guard everything in America all the time against terrorist attack. The only realistic hope to reduce the danger of future attacks lies not in violent reprisals by American forces, but in positive preventive programs, taken in concert with other nations to attack the root causes of terrorism by political and economic means.
Only by alleviating abject poverty and hopelessness in the poorest nations in the world can we eliminate the spirit that breeds terrorists -- that sense that even death is preferable to life under unbearable conditions. This will not be an easy or inexpensive challenge. But it is far less costly than the perpetual cycle of attack and reprisal and with targets like nuclear reactors to aim at.
Carroll, a retired rear admiral, served as director of U. S. military operations in Europe and the Middle East. Distributed by Knight Ridder-Tribune Information Services.
© 2001 PioneerPlanet / St. Paul (Minnesota) Pioneer Press
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