Vulnerability of nuclear power plants to terrorist attacks is much greater than Progress Energy wants to admit...

From: "Russell D. Hoffman" <>
Subject: Vulnerability of nuclear power plants to terrorist attacks is much greater than Progress Energy wants to admit...
To: Editor,
Date: October 14th, 2001
Re: Vulnerability of nuclear power plants to terrorist attacks is much greater than Progress Energy wants to admit...

To The Editor,

Here is a list of 25 simple ways terrorists could destroy a nuclear power plant (in this case, my local San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station) and make the area around it (in this case SoCal) uninhabitable for hundreds of thousands of years, for under about $100,000.00, using less than 20 people.

If William Cavanaugh (Chairman, President and CEO, Progress Energy, Raleigh, NC) feels he has solutions to the terrorist attack methods described in the attached list, I'll be happy to send him another list of 25 more, because there is only one reasonable solution -- shut the plants down.

We must turn off the nukes, which provide only about 7% of our energy in America, and switch to renewable energy solutions.

For more information, please visit my web site.  Virtually all the problems described for my local plant will apply to yours.


Russell Hoffman
Concerned Citizen
P.O. Box 19376
Carlsbad, CA 92018

P.S.  I realize this is a bit longer than your normal length limit for letters, but I hope you will consider the seriousness of the issue and the right of the people to be able to rebut Mr. Cavanaugh's disingenuous and inaccurate letter.


1) Hijack a commercial jetliner ala WTC/Pentagon/PA disasters. If one isn't enough, hijack two. If two isn't enough, hijack ten and be sure.

2) Rent, or even buy, a corporate jet so no pesky passengers can take back the cockpit like what happened in PA. It would do plenty of damage, if not quite as much as a jumbo jet. If one isn't enough, rent two...

3) A boat-bomb or depth-charge-carrying boat could be maneuvered over the outflow tubes from the plant, which are each over a mile long and are marked on navigation charts so that people don't drop their anchors on them. Destroying them would destroy San Onofre's ability to cool itself. (These tunnels may also be vulnerable to collapse when the waters recede just prior to the arrival of a tsunami (as they always do), an effect the NRC did not ever investigate despite professional advice that they should.)

4) Steal a tank (as a depressed ex-soldier did in San Diego a few years back) and ram it through the gate at San Onofre.

5) 50-caliber machine gun bullets would penetrate the coolant pumps, the pipes, the control-room, etc. You can bicycle up to the plant with a machine gun in a kiddie trailer, or simply stop your truck on the highway (I-5) which runs past the plant, and blaze away. You could get thousands of rounds in before anyone could stop you. Sure, you might not start a sequence which results in a catastrophic meltdown if you just start shooting without knowing your target well. But then again, the large front-page aerial photo of the plant which was published yesterday in the North County Times should give you more than enough information to aim at the most vulnerable sections.

6) Until just recently the NRC published the GPS locations of the plants to 6 decimal places. (That web page has been taken down since September 11th, 2001.) Terrorists could target a cruise-missile against the plant, or a ballistic missile, using these values. A well-aimed ballistic missile wouldn't even need a warhead. It's kinetic energy would be enough to destroy the plant. And removing the locations from the web site is window-dressing at best, since the plants are kind of hard to hide in the real world. Just ride by on your bike and get the necessary coordinates with your portable GPS.

7) Throw a short-circuiting-bomblet or grenade at the switchyard and other electrical areas of the plant. This would render it useless and could cause a meltdown as well. (A "short-circuiting-bomblet or grenade" is a small device that contains not shrapnel but long wires which criss-cross the target's electrical cables and short everything out. NPPs need constant, reliable off-site power to run, or they must use their emergency backup diesel generators (which often don't start properly when they are tested, and can also be shorted out along with the rest of the station). Yes, these bombs exist and we used them in Kosovo.)

8) Replace various pages of the control-room operating manuals with ones that contain misinformation so the operators do the wrong thing sooner or later. (Requires one inside person; could be done years before the accident occurs. It could already have been done at numerous NPPs and we just don't know it.)

9) Get an insider to do something. Insiders have access to many vital areas of the plant. There are thousands of workers at each plant. Some are always disgruntled about one thing or another. And some might accidentally say things at a party or somewhere, which others can use.

10) Derail a high-speed train off its tracks, which go by only about 100 to 200 feet away from the plant. With a little care and a bit of luck, the train could actually be driven towards the plant by weakening the rail on the plant side so the train falls towards that side.

11) Derail or blow up a chemical train on the tracks nearby. Such an accident would probably kill everyone at the plant, which would probably lead to a meltdown.

12) Mortars can be lofted into the plant from miles away, including a nearby highway rest area, a state park, or from the Interstate itself. One might call these a "drive-by war."

13) Crop-duster planes can be filled with gasoline instead of pesticides, then the pilot simply turns on the vents in the final second or two before impacting the plant. The fireball would be tremendous.

14) Rent a piece of construction equipment such as a Caterpillar, and simply aim it for the control room and let it roll. Even if they kill the driver they probably can't stop the vehicle.

15) Rent a truck and fill it with explosives (as Timothy McVeigh did in Oklahoma City). There are not nearly enough perimeter controls to prevent this. Although the gates appear to be guarded, there do not appear to be nearly enough physical barriers, especially for a delivery truck which has already made it past the perimeter on false pretences. (Even the plant's soda machines need someone to come in with enough materiel (in cans, which cannot be x-rayed) to blow the place to smithereens.)

16) Use two vehicles -- one to draw away the limited number of guards at the plant, the other, which arrives a few seconds later from a different direction, actually does the damage. A motor home at the state beach nearby could be filled with terrorists who could take over the control room.

17) Steal some of the military training equipment on the base at Camp Pendleton. This writer rode his bike over 20 miles on that military base four months ago without being questioned or stopped, along with an ex-Navy Seal. We did not realize the significance of our sojourn at the time.

18) Get an insider in the U.S. military to attack the plant with an A-10 Warthog or Apache helicopter. This isn't as far-fetched as it may sound. A few years ago a distraught A-10 Warthog pilot suddenly veered off course from his training mission, and flew 800 miles before running out of gas and crashing into the side of a mountain. He carried four 500-lb bombs at the time as well as machine-gun ammunition.

19) Since there is not a no-fly zone around the plant, any plane that attacks it gets a free ride all the way in. No one can challenge a plane which has not sent an "I have been hijacked" signal and which is flying in legal airspace. The nearest civilian airport is about 10 miles away, or about 5 minutes away for even the slowest airplanes. Our military could not possibly react in time.

20) Besides dropping depth-charges on the outflow tunnels (see item #3, "boat-bombs"), you could maneuver a boat very close to the plant, which is located at the ocean's edge, and shell the plant from the boat. There are numerous civilian harbors, beaches, etc. near the plant.

21) Multiple small planes can attack the plant at one time, overwhelming even a sophisticated air defense system.

22) ASL -- Air, Sea, Land. Terrorists can utilize all three at once to overwhelm the defenders.

23) NBC -- Nuclear, Biological, Chemical. Terrorists can attack the plant with BC to kill the operators and the security forces, and then calmly walk in and take over the plant.

24) (Censored -- the terrorists might not have thought of this one.)

25) The terrorists can simply wait for a meltdown to occur due to a natural disaster such as a tsunami, earthquake, or tornado, or due to a manufacturing defect, or operator error. The bottom line is, we have terrorists in Southern California. Their name is Southern California Edison.

Note: This list was thought up and compiled on September 27th, 2001. I'm sure the terrorists are much better at thinking these things up than I am and have considered all these possibilities and many more. Their failure to act might be because they can't decide which one suits their purposes the best. There is only one solution, even though it's only partially effective: SHUT THE PLANTS DOWN! A closed and inoperable nuke is much less vulnerable than one which is running.

Russell D. Hoffman
Concerned Citizen
Carlsbad, CA



Letter: Strong measures safeguard nuclear power plants

Following the tragic events of Sept. 11 there has been a great deal of media coverage about other potential terrorist targets. Those lists of targets almost always include nuclear power plants.

As the CEO of a company that owns four nuclear plants, and as a member of the Raleigh community, I understand that people want to know that everything possible is being done to protect them and their families. I also know, as an executive in a regulated industry and a former Navy officer, that most of our security measures have to remain secret.

However, there is a great deal we can say about what we're doing:

All of our nuclear plants, including the Harris Plant here in Wake County, remain under our highest security status. After the terrorist attacks the Nuclear Regulatory Commission asked all U.S. nuclear facilities to go to a heightened level of security. We continue to coordinate closely with federal, state and local authorities and are taking every step necessary to ensure safety and security at all of our facilities.

Nuclear plants are among the most secure industrial facilities in the world. Nuclear plants have always been guarded 24 hours a day by heavily armed, well-trained security personnel. We have plans already prepared to defend the plants from terrorists. All of Progress Energy's nuclear plants have performed very well on the government's security tests.

We are in constant communication with the NRC and the national intelli-gence community. In addition to our own security personnel, the U.S. military and state and local law enforcement officials are on call to respond to credible threats.

Nuclear plants are designed with multiple layers of safety systems and structures -- including physical security. There is the outer containment structure, built of reinforced concrete (4 to 6 feet of concrete with a steel liner), and the reactor vessel itself, made of steel that ranges from 9 inches to 1 foot in thickness. Nuclear plants also have multiple safety and plant shutdown systems, all of which have back-up systems, to provide even more security.

Finally, every plant has contingency plans and support agreements with state and local law enforcement and emergency management officials in the unlikely event of a terrorist attack. This includes evacuation plans for surrounding areas, if necessary, within 50 miles of the plant. These plans are regularly updated and "drilled" four times a year. The state, the NRC and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grade these practice sessions.

As we have continued to adapt to this post-attack environment, I have been struck by the dedication, professionalism and commitment of all our emergency, law enforcement and security personnel -- within CP&L and in the Triangle community. Everyone involved, including our emergency management partners at the state and local level, take their responsibility very seriously. I want my colleagues, customers, neighbors and friends to rest assured that we are taking every possible step to protect our facilities, our employees and the communities we serve.


Chairman, President and CEO

Progress Energy


Progress Energy is the parent company of CP&L. The length limit on letters and a limit of one letter per writer in any 30-day period were waived to permit a fuller response to recent articles.


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First posted October 14th, 2001.

Webwiz: Russell D. Hoffman