NRC's Friday press release was full of lies and quarter-truths

From: "Russell D. Hoffman" <>
Subject: NRC's Friday press release was full of lies and quarter-truths
Cc:,   "Barbara Boxer, Senator (CA, D)" <>,,  "Russell Wise, NRC" <>,  "Elmo Collins" <>,   "Pat Gwynn" <>,  "Clanon, Paul" <>,   "Ajello, Julian E." <>,   "Wong, Zee Z." <>,   "Clark, Richard W." <>,   "NRC" <>,"Barbara Byron" <>, Bob Aldrich <>, "Steve Woods" <>, "Bob Kahn, Op-ED editor, NC Times" <>
September 24th, 2001

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) press release analyzed below is full of lies.  In this response I have tried to expose as many of those lies as possible in my comments, which are marked with arrows.  Note that the typos (including the zip+4 error) in the NRC's press release are their own.

-- Russell D. Hoffman, Concerned Citizen, Carlsbad, CA


        NRC NEWS
Office of Public AffairsTelephone: 301/415-8200
Washington, DC 20555-001   E-mail:
Web Site:

No. 01-112 September 21, 2001

=====> REALITY:  This press release, strategically published on Friday, is the NRC's reaction to citizen complaints and concerns, not to the terrorist attacks.  The attacks occurred 10 days before this press release came out.   Citizen concern has been growing daily since that day.  A more accurate title for this press release would be: "Bowing to public pressure to make a statement, the NRC lies to allay citizen's concerns."  -- rdh <=====

In light of the recent terrorist attacks, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission officials and staff have been working around the clock to ensure adequate protection of nuclear power plants and nuclear fuel facilities. This has involved close coordination with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, other intelligence and law enforcement agencies, NRC licensees, and military, state and local authorities.

=====> REALITY:  The NRC has been working overtime to explain what cannot be logically explained -- a fatal flaw in the nation's infrastructure.  An Achilles heal.  A weak link.  The fact that this press release represents their best efforts should by itself be enough to terrify the public.   If you thought the FAA let you down, wait till you see how much the NRC has dropped the ball! -- rdh <=====

Immediately after the attacks, the NRC advised nuclear power plants to go to the highest level of security, which they promptly did. The NRC has advised its licensees to maintain heightened security. The agency continues to monitor the situation, and is prepared to make any adjustments to security measures as may be deemed appropriate.

=====> REALITY:  Heightened security doesn't mean much.  Ack-ack was not set up near the plants.  Troops did not surround the facilities.  Fighter jet air cover wasn't forthcoming.  Proving how little "heightened security" means, there STILL are no significant restrictions covering the airspace around the plants.  Without those restrictions, it's impossible to detect friend from foe soon enough. -- rdh <=====

In view of the recent unprecedented events, Chairman Richard A. Meserve, with the full support of the Commission, has directed the staff to review the NRC's security regulations and procedures.

=====> REALITY:  This "review", if it starts with this latest NRC press release, will be nothing more than another NRC whitewash of the terrifying vulnerabilities of nuclear power plants. -- rdh <=====

A number of questions have come in from reporters and members of the public since the tragic events of September 11. The following questions and answers are offered in response:

=====> REALITY:  These questions which the NRC has chosen to answer are only the tip of the iceberg.   If the NRC is good at anything, it's deflecting criticism from concerned citizens.  If only they could deflect bombs, bullets, and airplanes with such skill.  -- rdh <=====

Q: What would happen if a large commercial airliner was intentionally crashed into a nuclear power plant?
A:. Nuclear power plants have inherent capability to protect public health and safety through such features as robust containment buildings, redundant safety systems, and highly trained operators. They are among the most hardened structures in the country and are designed to withstand extreme events, such as hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes. In addition, all NRC licenses with significant radiological material have emergency response plans to enable the mitigation of impacts on the public in the event of a release. However, the NRC did not specifically contemplate attacks by aircraft such as Boeing 757s or 767s and nuclear power plants were not designed to withstand such crashes. Detailed engineering analyses of a large airliner crash have not yet been performed.

=====> REALITY:  There would almost surely be a meltdown if a large commercial airliner intentionally (or unintentionally) crashed into a nuclear power plant.  Many of the "redundant" systems actually are right next to each other.  The fact that the NRC claims they never analyzed this threat is a clear indication that the NRC has not applied a rational risk-assessment policy to commercial nuclear power plants in the United States.  Even if they discounted terrorist attacks, the country is constantly crisscrossed with jetliners.  Surely one could have crashed accidentally into a nuke plant at some point, and yet evidently, the NRC is claiming they never analyzed this danger.  As to how "robust" their containment domes are, aside from the domes being full of holes for a variety of purposes, one should note that the Pentagon was "robust" too, with newly-built Kevlar-impregnated five-foot thick steel-and-cement walls.  The plane sliced through several of these walls.   No containment dome has ever been tested, and neither, for that matter, has a full-scale mock-up of an Emergency Core Cooling System.  And anyone who has actually looked at a nuclear power plant's emergency response plan knows it's utter nonsense and totally unworkable (and usually more than 20 years old, despite new roads and developments, and despite huge population shifts).  -- rdh <=====

Q: What measures have the NRC and its power plant licensees taken in face of this potential threat?
A: Immediately after the attacks, the NRC advised licensees to go to the highest level of security, which all did promptly. The specific actions are understandably sensitive, but they generally included such things as increased patrols, augmented security forces and capabilities, additional security posts, heightened coordination with law enforcement and military authorities, and limited access of personnel and vehicles to the sites.

=====> REALITY: The main reason for secrecy seems to be that they don't want the public (or the terrorists) to know how little they are doing to protect us.  "Immediately" was actually nearly two hours after the first hijacking, over an hour after the first impact, nearly an hour after the second impact, and at least 20 minutes after the third impact.   It was about the same time the passengers on United Flight 93 figured out that they had to do something -- and they were amateurs!  (Perhaps the NRC should trust a few "amateurs" once in a while.)  Commercial jet planes cover a mile in about 6 seconds.   "The highest level of security" is a vague term being used to describe a woefully inadequate response.   If the NRC or the NPP licensees had assessed the nature of these threats properly, they would have immediately SCRAMmed the nation's nuclear reactors.   An operating NPP is far more vulnerable than one which has been shut down, even as recently as seconds earlier.  -- rdh <=====

Q: What, precisely, did the NRC do in response to the attacks?
A: At 10 a.m. on September 11, the NRC activated its Emergency Operations Center in headquarters and assembled a team of top officials and specialists. The same was done in each of its four regional offices. In addition to communicating with its licensees about the need to go to the highest level of security, the NRC established communications with the FBI, the Department of Energy, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, among others. NRC personnel were dispatched to the FBI's Strategic Information Operations Center. The NRC has also established close communications with nuclear regulators in Canada and Mexico.

=====> REALITY:  How long did it take to set up these "close communications" (which should have already been set up years ago)?  And what did the NRC team do from approximately 9:02 or 9:03 a.m.,  when the second plane struck the WTC towers and all talk of  an accidental impact ended, until 10 a.m., when they say they finally rolled into action?  Watch TV?  Clean their shorts? -- rdh <=====

Q:What would happen if a large aircraft should crash into a spent fuel dry storage cask?
A: The capacity of spent fuel dry storage casks to withstand a crash by a large commercial aircraft has not been analyzed. Nonetheless, storage casks are robust and must be capable of withstanding severe impacts, such as might occur during tornadoes, hurricanes or earthquakes. In the event that a cask were breached, any impacts would be localized. All spent fuel storage facilities have plans to respond to such an emergency, drawn up in consultation with local officials.

=====> REALITY:  How can they have ignored these types of dangers?  For decades they've been watching planes get hijacked, blown up -- even sometimes intentionally crashed by the pilots themselves!  So how did they manage to miss this factor in their risk analysis, and what else did they miss?  In the next answer, the NRC provides proof that what they mean when they say the risk has "not been analyzed" is that the problem was insurmountable, so they ignored it.   It's extremely questionable from an engineering standpoint that the casks are as robust as the NRC would have us believe.  Besides, what does "robust" really mean? -- rdh <=====

Q: What if a large aircraft crashed into a spent fuel transportation cask in a heavily populated area?
A: Again, the capacity of shipping casks to withstand such a crash has not been analyzed. However, they are designed to protect the public in severe transportation accidents. The cask must be able to withstand a 30-foot drop puncture test, exposure to a 30-minute fire at 1475 degrees Fahrenheit, and submersion under water for an extended period. Moreover, the location of loaded casks is not publicly disclosed and such a cask would present a small target to an aircraft .

=====> REALITY: The numbers they list here are senseless!  A 30-minute fire?  Fires are still burning at the WTC, nearly two weeks after the tragedy.  The Baltimore train tunnel fire a few months ago burned for days.  And 1475 degrees Fahrenheit -- it's an arbitrary number!  Many fires are far hotter, and undoubtedly the WTC and Pentagon fires were.  And a 30-foot drop isn't very far.   Instead the transportation casks, the Spent Fuel Casks, the Spent Fuel Pools, and the NPPs themselves, need to be built to withstand the impact of a plane knifing in from 30,000 feet with all engines blazing.  Of course, that level of engineering is impossible.  But shutting the nuclear plants down and switching to renewable energy resources is NOT impossible!  All these measurements of how far, how hot, and how wet the casks can get are meaningless.  They are not safety-driven values; instead they prove that the NRC is letting the nuclear industry risk catastrophe.  And the worst part is, we read these numbers and assume they suffice.  They don't.  They aren't even close.   Wake up, citizens! -- rdh <=====

If an airliner crashed into a cask, there could be some localized impacts. Regulations require special accident response training of those involved in shipping, as well as coordination with state, local and tribal emergency response personnel. In addition, redundant communications must be maintained during shipment with the transporter vehicle; this would facilitate emergency response, if necessary.

=====> REALITY:  The NRC's idea of a "worst-case scenario" isn't a true "worst-case" at all.   One trick they use, for example,  is that a so-called "worst-case scenario" might release as little as .1% of the total fuel at the site or in the cask, or even a smaller portion.   Another trick is that they average out thousands of accidents scenarios, most benign or nearly so, and present that averaged number to the public as a "worst-case".  Both "tricks of the trade" minimize the perceived dangers. -- rdh <=====

Q: Could such a crash into a nuclear power plant, or a storage or shipping cask trigger a nuclear explosion?
A: No.

=====> REALITY: While it's true that nuke plants can't explode like nuclear bombs, it's unmentioned that the release of radiation would be 1000 times worse and could kill millions.  Furthermore, they are legitimate targets of war because they are used to create plutonium for weapons.  Plus, NPPs are a part of our infrastructure, and we ourselves bomb civilian infrastructure whenever we wage war.  (Perhaps we should reassess that policy.) -- rdh <=====

Q: What are the consequences if an airliner crashed into a uranium fuel cycle facility?
A: Because of the nature of the material, there would likely be only minimal off-site radiological consequences. Some such facilities use chemicals similar to those found at many industrial facilities. In the event of a release, comprehensive emergency response procedures would be immediately implemented.

=====> REALITY: These chemicals they use are in addition to radioactive materials.  And what do they mean by "there would likely be only minimal..."?  What does "likely" mean?  It means that they have postulated a "worst-case scenario" which isn't a "worst-case" at all, as described above.  And as for the emergency response procedures, no civilian local response organizations has been properly prepared to handle a nuclear accident, anywhere.   If you don't believe me, try finding out how many "moon suits" (radiation protection uniforms) your local government has on its shelves.  You probably will be hard-pressed even to find someone who knows what you're talking about, let alone how many there are (probably none) and where they might be, and when they were last checked for leaks. -- rdh <=====

Q: Have nuclear power plants been subject to attack in the past?
A: There has never been an attack on a nuclear power plant. On very rare occasions there have been intrusions. For example, there was a 1993 car crash through the gates of Three Mile Island plant by an individual with a history of treatment for mental illness. Such intrusions have not resulted in harm to public health or safety.

=====> REALITY:  Gee, they forgot to mention a hijacked airplane nearly 30 years ago that threatened a nuclear facility.  That was back when the NRC was part of the Atomic Energy Commission (the AEC), so I guess their memory just doesn't go back that far.  Or maybe it was because it was a nuclear weapons facility and not a "nuclear power plant", so it doesn't fit into this narrowed category.  And they have forgotten all the times they have found intruders, strange packages, and even bombs on site at various NPPs.  These plants have never been safe and they have never been properly protected, and we have lots of proof that the perimeters have been penetrated with frightening regularly, and still can be penetrated by airplanes at any time.  The NRC got a "bye" this time.  Next time, we might not be so lucky. -- rdh <=====

Q: What are the normal security measures at commercial nuclear power plants.
A: Licensees are required to implement security programs that include well-armed civilian guard forces, physical barriers, detection systems, access controls, alarm stations, and detailed response strategies. NRC routinely inspects security measures as part of its normal reactor oversight process and periodically undertakes various exercises, including force-on-force exercises, so as to assure that any vulnerabilities are exposed and corrected .

=====> REALITY:  Nuclear power plant security contracts have traditionally gone to the lowest bidder.  "Well-armed" usually means a side-arm.  The terrorists are likely to be much more heavily armed than the security forces traditionally have been.  Also, security tests are run only every few years, or even as seldom as every eight years.  Independent oversight of this and many other things which go on at nuclear power plants is practically nil. -- rdh <=====

Q: Is an attack using an airplane part of the NRC's design basis threat against which its licensees have to defend?
A: No. The NRC has been in close and continuing contact with law enforcement and the military regarding such a threat.

=====> REALITY:  That doesn't say anything is actually being done.  For the airlines, we have had public debates in Congress to decide what to do.  A large segment of the population, having witnessed these debates, is afraid to fly because we know that very little is really being done to end the threat.  Thus over one hundred thousand airline workers have been thrown out of work.  We are wary, and rightfully so, of meaningless statements like this.   But the fact remains that undoubtedly many people in the NRC have actually figured out that there is NO PRACTICAL SOLUTION to this sort of terrorist threat, other than to shut the reactors down and bury the waste far, far away from civilization, and guard it forever.  But if they did shut the reactors down, then the NRC's reason for existence would change from regulating a "profitable" industry (voodoo profits, but that's another story) to one of regulating 103 nuclear waste dumps around the nation.  Not nearly as fun. -- rdh <=====

Q: What exactly is the so-called design basis threat?
A: The details of the design basis threat are classified, but it includes the characteristics of a possible sabotage attempt that NRC licensees are required to protect against. The agency continually assesses the adequacy of the design basis threat in consultation with local law enforcement and federal intelligence agencies.

=====> REALITY:  If you live near a nuclear power plant, go look.  All reports I've heard indicate that despite their statements, they aren't doing much to protect us.  You won't find ack-ack around the plants.  You won't find newly poured concrete barriers at the gates.  And worst of all, you'll find the plants still running, which is their most vulnerable state of existence. -- rdh <=====

Q:Is the NRC contemplating a modification of the design basis threat?
A: The agency will continue to coordinate with law enforcement and intelligence agencies to assess the implications of this new manifestation of terrorism. If the NRC determines that the design basis threat warrants revision, such changes would occur through a public rulemaking.

=====> REALITY:  The NRC will keep the plants open at all costs, including the cost of YOUR LIFE.  Rather than closing all 103 nuclear reactors so we can start the cooling process and so we can reduce the immediate vulnerabilities, the NRC "will continue" to try to determine if a revision in their thinking is warranted.  Well, the truth is, a revision was warranted long before this tragic attack occurred.   The NRC didn't grasp reality before and they don't grasp it now.  But their illogic is a whole lot more obvious to the public today than it ever was before.   SHUT THE REACTORS DOWN!  Demand of your state officials the firing of any NRC regulator responsible for any reactor in your state who does not recommend that the plants be shut down immediately.   It's time to get some realists working at the NRC, instead of these fiddling idiots from a dying millennium. -- rdh <=====


There are 1000 more questions to be answered, questions the NRC never asks, like why are we doing this in the first place?  Why do we pretend we need these reactors at all, when renewable, clean, terrorist-resistant energy sources abound?

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First posted September 24th, 2001.

Webwiz: Russell D. Hoffman