Tuesday, September 10, 2002 Dr. Edwin Lyman

(202) 822-6594





Group Warns NRC Chairman Meserve Not to Wait for

Specific Threats to Nuclear Power Plants Before Boosting Security



WASHINGTON --- Following recent revelations that Al Qaeda has considered nuclear power plants as primary targets for sabotage, and todays announcement by Attorney General John Ashcroft that the U.S. faces a high risk of terrorist attacks with the most likely targets in the transportation and energy sectors, the Nuclear Control Institute (NCI) called on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to take immediate steps to eliminate security vulnerabilities at U.S. nuclear power plants that still persist one year after the September 11 attacks.


The NRC took its time in imposing new security requirements for nuclear power plants after September 11, and has not even begun to verify that these measures are in place, said Dr. Edwin Lyman, NCI president. Now that the U.S. threat level has increased, the NRC must immediately bolster plant security or risk being caught flat-footed by a surprise terrorist attack.


NCI also stressed that until these measures are fully implemented and demonstrated through testing to be adequate to protect against September 11-scale attacks, the National Guard should be deployed nationwide at all nuclear plants to supplement private guard forces. NCI also urged that serious consideration should be given to the deployment of surface-to-air missiles or other means to protect against aircraft attack at nuclear plants.


NCI is particularly concerned about the reliance of the new NRC threat advisory system on timely warning of a specific threat to a nuclear plant, given that major terrorist attacks, including those on September 11, occurred without warning. The NRC cannot count on the prompt response of state and local police to save the day if a nuclear plant is attacked, said Dr. Lyman. Nuclear plant defenses should be capable of deterring realistic threats at all times.


In February, the NRC gave nuclear power plant licensees until August 31 --- that is, more than six months --- to implement a series of security upgrades known as interim compensatory measures (ICMs), which include increased security patrols and greater vehicle setback distances. NRC on-site inspections to review implementation of the ICMs are just beginning and will likely take several more months to complete, so there is no assurance today that these measures have been put into place correctly. And the effectiveness of the ICMs in providing adequate protection against terrorist attacks is unknown, because the NRC has no plans to resume force-on-force performance testing until the beginning of next year.


NCI also criticized the NRCs response to the threat posed by a September 11-type aircraft attack to nuclear plants, which consists primarily of conducting technical analyses of the consequences of suicide jet attacks on nuclear plants. If the NRC had devoted as much time and energy to evaluating options for protecting nuclear plants from aircraft attack as it had trying to justify its position that such protections are not necessary, the public would be a lot safer today, said Dr. Lyman.


The NRC has consistently argued that the command-and-control risks associated with deploying protective measures such as anti-aircraft missiles around nuclear plants would be unacceptable, and that greater airport security is the answer to preventing jet attacks on nuclear plants. However, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld today ordered that mobile heat-seeking anti-aircraft missiles be deployed around Washington to provide additional security for September 11 commemorations. Reuters is reporting that jet fighter patrols have been occurring on an intermittent basis over possible targets such as nuclear power plants. Given that the Pentagon is apparently comfortable with the level of risk posed by these practices, a renewed evaluation of the risks and benefits of anti-aircraft missile deployment at nuclear plants is warranted.


NCI is also greatly concerned that although the NRC affirmed in a September 5 letter to Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge that enhancing access control may be one of the most effective means of preventing a successful [nuclear plant] attack, it has been unable to overcome nuclear industry objections and eliminate the practice of granting temporary unescorted access to contract employees before FBI criminal background checks are completed. This security loophole led to an incident in February at Duke Energys Oconee nuclear plant in which a contract employee with a concealed criminal record was granted temporary unescorted access. The NRC has said that it has placed severe restrictions on the practice, but NCI maintains it should be halted altogether.


Additional information on nuclear plant security can be found on NCIs web site,