Protecting nuclear power plants in an age of unbridled terrorism (commentary by Russell Hoffman, October 22nd, 2001)

From: "Russell D. Hoffman" <>
Subject: Protecting nuclear power plants in an age of unbridled terrorism

To: Editor, Atlantic Journal-Constitution
From: Russell Hoffman, Concerned Citizen, Carlsbad CA
Subject: Protecting nuclear power plants in an age of unbridled terrorism
Date: October 22nd, 2001

To The Editor:

Regarding the opinion piece published in your paper yesterday (and shown below), posting National Guard troops around our nuclear power plants would only be of limited value.  What we need are much better physical barriers (earthen berms, concrete gates, etc.), more firepower for the defenders (perhaps National Guard troops) including anti-aircraft missiles, we need absolute enforcement of a no-fly zone around each plant (at least 25 miles in radius -- that gives you about 2 minutes unless the terrorists have hijacked a Concorde), and the plants need to all be shut down permanently because they are much more robust once the control rods are inserted, and over time they become more and more resistant to terrorist acts, or acts of God for that matter.

Each plant is operating at risk of catastrophic failures, from earthquakes, from tsunamis for the coastal plants, from tornados, operator error, embrittlement and many other things.  NONE of them have proper protections.  For example tsunamis are known to reach heights of 200 feet regularly, even 1800 feet, but the tsunami wall at my local nuclear power plant (San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station) is only 35 feet tall.  Similarly, it's design basis is a 7.0 earthquake but new evidence suggests that 7.6 earthquakes are possible here.

Please read some of the essays I've posted online regarding the many reasons we need to switch NOW to renewable energy solutions.

Thank you.

Russell Hoffman
Concerned Citizen
Carlsbad CA
Essays on nuclear power:


>>>>> From: >>>>>

OTHER OPINION: Nuclear power plants vulnerable to terrorists

Tim Zink - For the Journal-Constitution
Sunday, October 21, 2001

After emerging unscathed from the Cold War, when nuclear annihilation was the ultimate possible consequence, the nuclear specter has again closed on us. Terrorists, our opponents in this newest war, have the capability to launch a nuclear attack on American soil, so long as the perimeters of domestic nuclear reactor sites remain chronically porous.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has in recent years attempted to move away from a highly effective security evaluation program known as Operational Safeguards Response Evaluations, in which teams simulating armed attacks attempt to penetrate reactor sites.

A former U.S. Navy SEAL and NRC contractor, Capt. David Orrick, ran the OSRE program. Orrick's teams often were able to compromise sensitive areas within reactor sites --- sometimes gaining access to plants' control rooms --- even though the managers of the sites frequently were notified in advance of coming evaluations.

Despite the proven ability of OSRE to expose weaknesses in reactor fortifications, the NRC in 1998 canceled the program. After apparently learning of the cancellation from media sources, NRC Director Richard Meserve reinstated OSRE, but the commission subsequently announced it would this fall start a pilot program under which the operators of reactor sites would essentially police themselves.

The move drew criticism from nuclear watchdog groups and Orrick himself. Orrick wrote in 1999, "In effect, it [OSRE] is the only program NRC has that directly focuses on the terrorist threat against nuclear power plants --- significant weaknesses were identified in 27 of 57 plants (or 47 percent) evaluated to date. 'Significant' here means a real attack would have put the reactor in jeopardy with the potential for core damage and a radioactive release, i.e., an American Chernobyl." These results came after the average plant used 82 percent more armed defenders in the simulated attack than they commit to using in the event of a real attack.

Very few other potential terrorist operations could match the sheer destructive potential of a strike on a domestic nuclear reactor. After being considered unlikely targets for years because of a perceived unwillingness on the part of terrorists to kill extremely large numbers of civilians, the events of Sept. 11 forced an immediate re-evaluation of reactors' strategic importance.

As Congress crafts nuclear-specific measures as part of larger anti-terrorism legislation, guaranteeing the future of OSRE should be a priority. The project comes with a relatively low price tag --- its total operating budget is slightly more than $100,000 --- and is consistent with other recent congressional actions to bolster nuclear security.

The U.S. House of Representatives recently proposed extending laws prohibiting nuclear sabotage to include nuclear waste fabrication, treatment and disposal facilities. By extending these laws, legal protections would be bolstered should any aspect of the nuclear handling process come under attack.

The House also approved an amendment to study nuclear plants' design vulnerabilities and possible protection measures. If made law, the results of this analysis would be due back to Congress within 90 days of enactment, presumably to provide the basis for future, more stringent anti-terror measures.

Stronger action still needs to be taken now. Several measures to be debated could quickly elevate our national nuclear security.

Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) has submitted legislation to take the design-vulnerabilities study steps further, guaranteeing revisions to NRC standards within one year of enactment. This revision would be done in consultation with the defense secretary; directors of the Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation and Homeland Security; the national security adviser and others, including the public, before completion.

Other voices within Congress have called for the protection of reactor sites nationwide by National Guard troops. New York Gov. George Pataki dispatched guardsmen this month to the state's nuclear power plants, and troops have been in place at selected installations in New Jersey since the Sept. 11 attacks. The decision to use National Guard troops remains up to individual states, however, and many, including Georgia, have chosen not to use them for plant protection.

Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, spurred by a Sept. 13 incident in which an unidentified airplane swooped close to a nuclear power station, recently urged federal officials to create no-fly zones around U.S. reactors. The Federal Aviation Administration responded with a warning that these zones would allow terrorists to pinpoint the exact location of every plant in the country.

The locations of U.S. nuclear power plants are in no way secret, however, and recent events have transformed these plants into installations of fundamental military importance, in terms of their basic threat to American lives. The use of National Guard troops and no-fly zones to protect nuclear installments is now simply necessary, and will be well into the future.

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First posted October 22nd, 2001.

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