NUCLEAR CONTROL INSTITUTE COMMITTEE TO BRIDGE THE GAP
Washington, D.C. Los Angeles, CA
CONTACT: Paul Leventhal 202-822-8444 CONTACT: Dan Hirsch 831-462-6136
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Thursday, December 23, 1999
WATCHDOG GROUPS REVEAL NRC'S MISGUIDED MILLENNIAL MESSAGE
TO REACTOR OPERATORS: `DON'T UPGRADE DEFENSES AGAINST TERRORISTS'
In an unannounced "advisory" sent to operators of the nation's 103 nuclear power reactors, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission sees no need to upgrade defenses against terrorist attack during the immediate millennial period, prompting a strong letter of protest today by the Nuclear Control Institute and the Committee to Bridge the Gap.
"Given the unique devastation that would result from the release of the intensely radioactive contents of the core of a one-billion-watt nuclear power plant in the event of a meltdown caused by sabotage, it is inexplicable that the only major Federal agency not increasing security against terrorists during the millennial period is the NRC," the two watchdog groups wrote to NRC Chairman Richard Meserve after learning of the advisory.
NCI President Paul Leventhal and CBG President Daniel Hirsch called on Meserve to countermand the advisory sent by NRC staff to power reactor operators on December 21, and instead order operators to activate contingency plans against attack. At a minimum, they said, plant operators should be required to increase the size of guard forces and the frequency of armed patrols, upgrade vehicle barrier systems, and suspend non-essential visits and deliveries.
The NRC refused to release a copy of the non-classified staff advisory when asked by Nuclear Control Institute and the Committee to Bridge the Gap. "NRC staff responsible for the advisory have told us the advisory states that in the absence of any intelligence information of a specific threat against nuclear plants or materials, there is no need for licensees to escalate security precautions at nuclear power plants," Leventhal and Hirsch wrote to Meserve. "We also were told the advisory states the NRC will remain in contact with intelligence authorities and will pass on any new information to licensees."
In their letter, they said "the logic behind this advisory defies common sense" as well as the Commission's own formal guidance against over-reliance on prior warning from the U.S. intelligence community. They noted that major attacks like the ones on New York City's World Trade Center and Oklahoma City's federal building came without warning. They also cautioned that due to deficiencies in NRC regulations, nuclear power plants "are potentially vulnerable to large-scale truck-bomb attacks, and nearly half of these plants have failed to repel mock terrorist attacks."
"To our knowledge," they wrote, "there is now no known specific threat against any domestic target in the United States, yet officials at all governmental levels (with the apparent exception of the NRC) are acting prudently to beef up security at critical infrastructure facilities against what they fear is a greater likelihood of terrorist attack associated with Y2K." They also cited the recent arrest at U.S.-Canada border crossings of suspected terrorists, one of them transporting high explosives, and the recent arrest of a militia group leader accused of planning to blow up a power reactor in Florida with stolen explosives, as reasons for "heightened concern by the NRC."
The full text of the letter can be downloaded from NCI's Website (www.nci.org/c/c122399.htm). Copies of the letter were sent to President Clinton and his senior advisor on critical infrastructure and counterterrorism, the director of the FBI's new counterterrorism, Meserve's fellow NRC commissioners, and senior members of Congress responsible for overseeing the NRC.