Press Briefing National Press Club on the Vulnerability of Nuclear
Reactors to Sabotage Statement by Bennett Ramberg, Ph.D.

Director of Research
Committee to Bridge the Gap
1637 Butler St.
Los Angeles, CA 90025
310 478-0829

Bennett Ramberg's statement delivered at the National Press Club

By way of background, in 1980 under the auspices of Princeton University's Center for International Studies and the UCLA Center for International and Strategic Affairs I authored a book entitled Destruction of Nuclear Energy Facilities in War, Lexington Books. In 1984, in the aftermath of Israel's bombing of Iraq's Osirak reactor, the book was republished in paperback by the University of California Press under the title, Nuclear Power Plants as Weapons for the Enemy: An Unrecognized Military Peril. The new title was designed to focus the reader's attention on the proposition that nuclear plants could become radiological hostages and weapons to the acts of adversaries. The recent bombing of the World Trade Center demonstrating the willingness of terrorists to take large number of lives by using our own aircraft--as they could use our own nuclear power reactors--underscores this specter.

During my research I investigated and demonstrated how multiple barriers--or defense in depth--designed to prevent or contain accidents could be overcome by willful sabotage. My work demonstrated that under some scenarios--impacted by the dimension of the radiological release, the composition of material, weather, topography, the failure to relocate or shield populations--many thousands of people could be put at risk in densely populated regions. At the very least, hundreds to thousands of square miles could be placed off limits to human habitation due to the lingering impact of long-lived radioactive elements. The economic consequences would be devastating. In the end, the purpose of my work was to demonstrate the problem and suggest remedies.

At the time my book first appeared, no nuclear facility had ever been bombed and most defense analysts were skeptical. During my book's incubation, authorities from the Departments of Defense and State--from whom I originally sought research funding--discouraged my investigation. The U.S. misgivings about the legitimacy of the subject matter was undermined shortly after publication of the first edition of the book when Iran bombed Iraq's Osirak reactor in September 1980 and Israel finished the job in June 1981. Subsequently, other attacks occurred as Iraq bombed Iranian plants under construction and the United States bombed a small research reactor outside Baghdad at the
outset of the Persian Gulf War 1991. In 1986, Chernobyl demonstrated what could happen in a major accident which willful sabotage could replicate.

As a result of my work, in the mid 1980s I turned my attention to terrorist sabotage of nuclear plants. I presented my findings to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission raising questions about the vulnerability of American reactors to terrorist action The Commission dismissed my concerns. However, in 1993, the Commission was far more attentive to testimony I delivered as a result of the World Trade Center bombing. Efforts were undertaken to reduce the risks posed by vehicular bombs. However, by in large, the design basis threat that governed defenses at reactor sites was not and has not been altered.

When I testified in 1993, I concluded that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission largely relied on trends indicating that nuclear plants were unlikely to be attractive targets. Informing this view was the conclusion that it was not in the political interest of terrorists to take large number of lives. Furthermore, the Commission concluded that the intelligence community would provide timely warning of an attack. It appears that these factors continue to guide the Commission. Clearly, the recent bombing of the Trade Center is the wake up call that demands a change in business as usual. Furthermore there are troubling reports that terrorists have recently contemplated sabotaging reactors--for example news from South Asia Pakistani Muhajadeen have threatened to sabotage Indian nuclear reactors. Recent events demand the obvious: an immediate modification of the design basis threat and application of corrective defensive measures.