IAEAS ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OF NUCLEAR TERRORISM RISK
IS WELCOME BUT LONG OVERDUE
Agency Continues to Downplay Shortcomings
Washington Todays acknowledgement of the danger of nuclear terrorism by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is welcome but long overdue, the Nuclear Control Institute (NCI) said today.
The IAEA warned in particular of the potential of terrorists targeting nuclear facilities or using radioactive sources and the need for IAEA to actively reinforce safeguardsand upgrade our safety and security services. The IAEA also declared that radiation knows no frontiers and warned that safety and security of nuclear material is a legitimate concern of all states. Regarding potential sabotage, the IAEA said: There is no sanctuary anymore, no safety zone.
Paul Leventhal, president of NCI, a research and advocacy center on problems of nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism, said: For more than two decades, we have urged the IAEA and the nuclear power industry to take seriously the risks of terrorists stealing bomb-usable nuclear materials and attacking nuclear plants. The need for action, not rhetoric, is long overdue.
The single most important step the IAEA should take is to call for an immediate halt in production and use of atom bomb materials, separated plutonium and highly enriched uranium, in nuclear power and research programs, Leventhal said. More separated plutonium has been produced in civilian than military nuclear programs worldwide. Unless commercial reprocessing of spent fuel is halted, there will be nearly twice as much weapons-usable plutonium in civilian than military programs by the end of this decade. Civilian plutonium, like plutonium removed from weapons, should be disposed of as waste, not used as fuel.
The Agency should also acknowledge the ineffectiveness of its safeguards on weapon-usable nuclear materials against diversion for use in weapons, Leventhal continued. A study prepared for NCI by Dr. Marvin Miller of MIT concluded that for bulk-handling plutonium facilities, the minimum detectable loss can be quite large---some 263 kilograms a year in a large spent-fuel reprocessing plant. That is enough plutonium to make dozens of nuclear bombs. The IAEA is supposed to provide prompt detection of the loss of one bombs worth of plutonium---officially 8 kilograms. (See NCI studies on the inadequacies of safeguards at http://www.nci.org/p/plsgrds.htm and http://www.nci.org/k-m/mmsgrds.htm.)
NCI has worked for two decades to eliminate bomb-usable highly enriched uranium (HEU) from civil commerce, Leventhal said. It is time for the IAEA to call for elimination of HEU from research programs. Enormous progress has been made, with the vast majority of the worlds research reactors having already converted to low-enriched uranium alternatives. However, the IAEA is silent about a new research reactor in Germany, to be licensed to use up to 360 kilograms of bomb-grade HEU fuel by the year 2010, equivalent to dozens of bombs. In a recent letter to German President Gerhard Schroeder, NCI proposed that FRM-II be converted prior to start-up to low-enriched uranium (LEU), which is unsuitable for weapons. Two studies by the U.S. Argonne National Laboratory and Germanys Technical University-Darmstadt make clear that such conversion is possible without reducing the quality or competitiveness of scientific research. (http://www.nci.org/01nci/10/pr-schroeder.htm; http://www.nci.org/01nci/10/schroeder-letter.htm)
NCI called on IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei to retract his claim that while we cannot exclude the possibility that terrorists could get hold of some nuclear material, it is highly unlikely they could use it to manufacture and successfully detonate a nuclear bomb. IAEA spokesman David Kyd made a similar statement on September 18: "A nuclear weapon requires tremendous expertise. We have no indications that any terrorist group is that advanced."
In fact, Leventhal countered, Those who have actually designed nuclear weapons do not agree with the IAEAs sanguine assessment. In a study commissioned by NCI for its International Task Force on the Prevention of Nuclear Terrorism, a team of five former U.S. nuclear-weapon designers found that terrorists indeed would be capable of making an effective, first-generation nuclear weapon if they could obtain enough reactor-grade plutonium or highly enriched uranium. (This study is available at http://www.nci.org/k-m/makeab.htm)
NCI also challenged the IAEAs statement today that the damage caused by large commercial aircraft to a power reactor containment is still a matter for analysis. "This appears to be a significant back-tracking from the statement issued by an Agency spokesmen shortly after the September 11 attacks, Leventhal said. David Kyd, the IAEA spokesman, stated on September 18 that if terrorists crashed a jumbo jet into a nuclear power plant, the containment could be breached and the cooling system of the reactor could be impaired to the point where radioactivity might well be set free.
A spokesman for the German nuclear power industry recently acknowledged that no power plant in the world could withstand an airborne terror attack like the one on September 11. (www.nci.org/01/10/16-1.htm) Yet the Nuclear Energy Institute, the U.S. nuclear power industrys chief lobbyist group, claims a high likelihood that aircraft would not penetrate the containmentThe chances that the aircraft would damage the containment are really quite small. (NEI Vice President Ralph Beedle, http://www.nci.org/01nci/10/1014-60min-transcript.htm)
Dr. Edwin Lyman, a physicist and NCIs scientific director, notes that a direct, high-speed hit by a large commercial passenger jet would in fact have a high likelihood of penetrating a containment building that houses a power reactor. Following such an assault, he said, the possibility of an unmitigated loss-of-coolant accident and significant release of radiation into the environment is a very real one. Such a release, whether caused by an air strike, or by a ground or water assault, or by insider sabotage could result in tens of thousands of cancer deaths downwind of the plant. A number of these plants are located near large cities. (An abridged version of Dr. Lymans analysis is available at http://www.nci.org/01nci/09/aircrashab.htm.) NCI shared Dr. Lymans calculations with NRC several weeks ago but has yet to receive a substantive response.
IAEA should also follow through on its call for physical security to be upgraded at nuclear sites around the world, Leventhal continued. "The IAEAs current physical-security standards only apply to nuclear shipments, not to fixed facilities. Both need to be covered and substantially strengthened."
In the United States, NCI and the Committee to Bridge the Gap recommended in a September 14 letter to NRC Chairman Richard Meserve and a follow-up press conference on September 25 the immediate use of National Guard troops to deter attacks from land and water, serious consideration of deployment of advanced anti-aircraft weapons to defeat suicidal attacks from the air, and a thorough re-vetting of all plant employees and contractor personnel to protect against sabotage by insiders. (letter: http://www.nci.org/01nci/09/letter-mserve-14.htm; press conference transcript: http://www.nci.org/01nci/09/letter-mserve-14.htm)
Thus far eight states Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Jersey and New York are confirmed to have deployed National Guard troops to protect their nuclear power plants. On October 30, Tom Ridge, U.S. homeland security director, advised governors to use National Guard troops to strengthen security at nuclear plants. Thus far, only one-quarter of the 32 states with nuclear power plants have responded. In addition, General William F. Kernan, commander of the U.S. Joint Forces Command, told reporters on October 31 he has considered the full array of air defense systems to protect some sites. Most recently some of the things we looked at are some of the nuclear power plants, some of the other critical infrastructure that supports the national and state governments.
In 1986, NCI convened the International Task Force on Prevention of
Nuclear Terrorism, a balanced panel of 26 experts in diverse fields. The Task
Forces report remains the most definitive treatment of nuclear terrorism in the
unclassified literature. Further information about nuclear terrorism, physical
security, and materials safeguards are available on the Nuclear Control
Institute website at
http://www.nci.org, particularly the Nuclear Terrorism section at