What's Wrong With
Nuclear Power Plants remain vulnerable to airplane attacks - from a commercial jet to a small private plane loaded with explosives. Many plants, including Pilgrim, are short distances from private and commercial airports where security measures may be limited.
Risk: There is no onsite security to prevent an air attack. The NRC mistakenly assumed that a large, fuel-laden commercial aircraft would pose the greatest threat to a nuclear reactor as was the case on 9/11 at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. However they would not be optimal to attack a nuclear facility. They can be difficult to guide precisely at low speed and altitude. A well-informed group of attackers instead would probably prefer to use a smaller, general-aviation aircraft laden with explosive material, perhaps in a tandem configuration in which the first stage is a shaped charge.
The 9/11 Commission said in its report that the al-Qaeda plot to hit the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in 2001 had originally contemplated hijacking 10 planes and striking one or more nuclear power plants; and that, “"Al Qaeda shows a continued fixation with using explosive-laden small aircraft in attacks." Department of Homeland Security, Advisory -May 2003. The US General Accounting Office (GAO) in their September 2003 testimony to
Congress, went on to say that,
The NRC has been aware of the risk of an air attack on a reactor for many years. The NRC commissioned a study in 1982 of jet crashes at nuclear reactors. It stated that a commercial airline crash into a reactor could "lead to a rather violent explosion" with a "direct release of radioactivity." If only one percent of the fuel, say 500 lb for a FB-111 fighter plane, is involved in such an incident, the blast environment will be equivalent to detonating approximately 1,000 lbs of TNT. Further, the NRC, in a press release, 9/21/01, stated that, "The NRC recognizes that aircraft crashes may result in multiple failure initiating events, and that non-safety system malfunctions could contribute to such events."
The FBI, January 30, 2002, warned of attacks on nuclear reactors. They stated that they had indications that a truck bomb or airplane attack on a nuclear plant or other U.S. nuclear facility, such as a weapons storage depot, is designed to cause mass casualties and spread deadly radiological debris.
National Resource Council, July 2002 report "Making the Nation Safer" states that, "Nuclear power plants may present high-visibility target for terrorist attack, and the potential for a September 11-type surprise attack in the near term using U.S. assets such as airplanes appears to be high. Such attacks could potentially have severe consequences if the attack were large enough and, were such an attack successfully carried out, could do great harm tot he nation's near-term energy security and civilian nuclear power as a long-term energy option." http://books.nap.edu/html/stct/39-64.pdf
The Homeland Security Department, November 7, 2003, warned law-enforcement officers that Al Qaeda maybe plotting to hijack cargo jets in Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean and fly them into American nuclear power plants.
Federal studies show that
planes can penetrate the reactor’s walls.
The pool roof and critical “softer” support structures needed, for example, to keep the radioactive fuel pool operating --- such as switch-yard and control room ---
are even less substantial.
These studies are public and have been reviewed. The industry sites their own study to the contrary – problem is that they refuse to release the study so that independent analysts can review its methodology and conclusions.
Website: Visit the Committee to Bridge the Gap to view a two minute video narrated by Martin Sheen on nuclear reactor vulnerability to an air attack and the Beamhenge shield plan to reduce risk; and a copy of the petition and supporting materials.
F. Ground-based air defense systems: These would be effective but implementation would require the presence of US military at the site and enforced no-fly or keep-out zones around the reactor.
The Raytheon Phalanx Close-In Weapon System is appropriate for a wide range of threats and avoids problems associated with surface to air missiles. It is a rapid fire, computer-controlled, radar-guided gun system designed to defeat air threats. The Phalanx systems uses 20 mm bullets and is currently used on U.S. Navy vessels. It offers around the clock protection and is cheaper, safer and more reliable than other means of protection.
The computerized radar system can determine if an aircraft's flight path termination point is at the reactor site. If such a determination is made, operating personnel can verify the approaching threat and destroy it shortly before it strikes the reactor. The system is ideal to use when the reactor is close to an airport or busy traffic lines, like Pilgrim NPS, because of its advanced analysis capabilities.
It is ideally suited to protect nuclear reactors because it is available 24 hours a day and able to differentiate between a real threat and a passing or lost aircraft.
What are the drawbacks to putting missiles in or near nuclear reactor sites? The US military would be required on site and establishing a no-fly zone might also require closing some small airports.
Those who advocate this option say that the choice is easy if the risks are weighed against the benefits.
ater Based Attack
Patriot Ledger, 2002
Pilgrim is on Cape Cod Bay with an extensive shoreline. Fishermen bring their boats inside the 500-yard security zone. During the summer months, there is considerable pleasure boat traffic crisscrossing in front of the reactor site.
There is a 500-yard “exclusion zone,” simply marked by buoys – the equivalent of “no-trespassing signs.” It is not made impenetrable, and does not appear to be patrolled most of the time.
It was announced on March 25, 2003 that Coast Guard patrols were increased; however the Coast Guard’s resources are limited. Once the patrol leaves the site, a terrorist can strike. A floating boom is, or was going to be, placed across the mouth of the intake canal but this will not stop a submerged weapon.
Land Based Attack
Pilgrim sits on 1600 wooded acres – the topography is such that to the south the land rises to provide a hill top to look directly down on the reactor and surrounding buildings. August 31, 2004, a tourist from Connecticut was
caught fishing on the waterfront in front of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power
Station. He told the police that he did not see the “No Trespassing”
signs. The real story isn't that he was caught. The real story is that
a fisherman tourist from Connecticut who didn't see the "No Trespassing"
signs could breach Pilgrim's security in the first place. Effective
security doesn't catch people after they have rigged their rods, baited
their hooks, and set their casts. Effective security would keep people
out in the first place. If a fisherman tourist wearing flip-flops can
breach security with such ease, and not be caught until after he has had
time to set his line, imagine what harm a terrorist actually trying to
evade detection could do. The NRC should also take into consideration the
inclusion of multiple coordinated teams. Attackers should be presumed to
use a full range of weapons to include shaped charges, shoulder-fired
rockets, mortars, anti-tank weapons, large quantities of explosives etc.
The explosives, weapons and equipment need not be limited to
hand-carried items as stated in current regulations. The DBT regulations should include a minimum of three
insiders, in addition to the 19 external attackers, as opposed to the
current one insider as stated in the current security rule. The insiders
should be presumed to play both a passive role (e.g., supplying
information) and an active role (e.g., directly participating in a
coordinated attack or separate sabotage actions). A land vehicle should not be limited to a four-wheeled
drive car or truck, as is the case now, but include the full range of
trucks and other vehicles, such a boats, a group like Al Qaeda might
employ in an attack. Outside Responders: What help Can They Offer?
August 31, 2004, a tourist from Connecticut was caught fishing on the waterfront in front of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station. He told the police that he did not see the “No Trespassing” signs. The real story isn't that he was caught. The real story is that a fisherman tourist from Connecticut who didn't see the "No Trespassing" signs could breach Pilgrim's security in the first place. Effective security doesn't catch people after they have rigged their rods, baited their hooks, and set their casts. Effective security would keep people out in the first place. If a fisherman tourist wearing flip-flops can breach security with such ease, and not be caught until after he has had time to set his line, imagine what harm a terrorist actually trying to evade detection could do.
The NRC should also take into consideration the inclusion of multiple coordinated teams. Attackers should be presumed to use a full range of weapons to include shaped charges, shoulder-fired rockets, mortars, anti-tank weapons, large quantities of explosives etc. The explosives, weapons and equipment need not be limited to hand-carried items as stated in current regulations.
The DBT regulations should include a minimum of three insiders, in addition to the 19 external attackers, as opposed to the current one insider as stated in the current security rule. The insiders should be presumed to play both a passive role (e.g., supplying information) and an active role (e.g., directly participating in a coordinated attack or separate sabotage actions).
A land vehicle should not be limited to a four-wheeled drive car or truck, as is the case now, but include the full range of trucks and other vehicles, such a boats, a group like Al Qaeda might employ in an attack.
Outside Responders: What help Can They Offer?
Nuclear reactors can not depend on outside help to defeat a terrorist attack. The Project on Government Accountability (POGO) consulted security experts. They agreed that a suicidal attack aimed at the reactor or spent fuel pool would be over, one way or the other, in 3-10 minutes. In fact, people familiar with NRC OSRE's tell POGO the mock attacks are usually lost in three minutes. Top NRC officials acknowledged to POGO, that tabletop security exercises show that it would take one-two hours for outside responders to arrive on the scene and get organized.
The delay results from the actions that must take place if Pilgrim makes an emergency call that it is under attack and needs outside help. These actions are:
Apparently licensees have never actually tested the length of time it would actually take for an outside responder SWAT team to arrive. The NRC has recently begun a pilot program to test these timelines, but only with tabletop exercises - not actual drills.
Even if some local and State Police or local sheriffs' deputies could respond in 10-20 minutes, they do not constitute a combat force. They do not carry automatic weapons; are not familiar with the reactor layout or target sets to be protected; and have not had extensive coordinated on-site training.
NRC officials currently regard the two-hour delay in response time acceptable. They believe it would take at least an hour or two after an attack before irreversible core meltdown would occur. But the NRC has performed no analysis to support this assumption. NRC admits that if the terrorists or an "active insider" disables the reactor controls and their back-up, there would be nothing outsider responders could do.
On-site security personnel-problems on-site security at nuclear reactors:
Press reports state that the assumed attacking force in the new DBT contains no more than six persons [H. Josef Hebert, Associated Press, "NRC rejects plan for power plants to stop airliner attacks", The Boston Globe, January 30, 2007.] The average US nuclear-plant site employs about 77 security personnel that cover multiple shifts. Thus, comparatively few guards are on duty at any given time. [Mark Holt and Anthony Andrews, Nuclear Power Plants: Vulnerability to Terrorist Attack, Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service, 4 October 2006].
Under-trained: Nuclear industry executives have repeatedly claimed that guards receive 270 hours of training before being posted; 90 hours per year to re-qualify with their weapons; and 30 hours per year in antiterrorist tactical exercises. None of these claims appear to be true. Most guards interviewed train with their weapons only once per year for two to three hours during their annual weapons qualification. Most also have had no training or practice in shooting at a moving target. "Tabletop" exercises are so rudimentary that utilities use red and blue colored clothes pins to depict locations and tactics of guards and terrorists.
For example: According to two former Seabrook nuclear power plant guards who were hired post-9/11, they were only given four days of tactical training and three days of weapons training before being posted. Neither they, nor any of the other 14 recruits in their training class, had military or law enforcement experience. The majority of those recruits had never even fired a weapon before. Yet during their training they were limited to firing 96 rounds with their handguns and fewer rounds with their shotguns, and were told they "would not be firing our service weapons again until the annual qualifications." The guards said they informed the trainers more training was necessary, but were told that if they wanted more practice with the weapons, it would have to be on their own time and at their own expense.
Under-equipped: Many of the guards believe they are not equipped with adequate weaponry. The power and range of weapons provided to many of the guards is vastly inferior to the weapons known to be used by terrorists, due in part to restrictive state laws. According to one guard, terrorists will come armed with automatic weapons, sniper rifles, and grenades and the guard force "would be seriously outgunned, and won't have a chance." Federal law prohibits security guards from using automatic weapons, even though they are expected to face them in an attack.
The equipment that NRC requires for an onsite security force: Major items of required equipment are semiautomatic rifles, shotguns, semiautomatic pistols, bullet-resistant vests, gas masks, and flares for night vision.[10 CFR 73 Appendix B – General Criteria for Security Personnel, Section V, accessed from the NRC web site (www.nrc.gov) on 14 June 2007.] Plausible attacks could overwhelm a security force equipped in this manner.
Underpaid: Low wages and inadequate health, disability and other benefits are causing turnover in the guard force at some plants as high as 70-100% over the 3½year life of a labor contract. At six nuclear facilities identified by POGO, security guards were being paid $1 to $4 less per hour than custodians or janitors. Guards also often earn less than workers in their area who face substantially less risk such as funeral attendants, manicurists, and aerobic instructors.
Unsure: Nearly all of the guards interviewed raised concerns about the lack of guidance on the use of deadly force. Guards are currently restricted from using deadly force unless an intruder is wielding a weapon or threatening the life of an individual. If a suicidal terrorist with a backpack (possibly containing explosives) jumped the fence and headed straight for a spent fuel pool or reactor, the guard could only observe and report the event. One guard summed up the problem stating: "If you pull the trigger, you're on your own and you'll need a good lawyer."
Shaped Charge as Potential Instrument Attack
Shaped charges are a potential means of attack. Shaped charges have many civilian and military applications, and have been used for decades. Applications include human-carried demolition charges or warheads for anti-tank missiles. Construction and use does not require assistance from a government or access to classified information. A Beechcraft King Air 90 general-aviation aircraft will carry a payload of up to 990 kg at a speed of up to 460 km/hr; and a used King Air 90 can be purchased in the US for $0.41.0 million. Dr. Gordon Thompson described the threat in Environmental Impacts of Storing SNF & HLW from Commercial Nuclear Reactors:A Critique of NRC's Waste Confidence Decision & Environmental Impact Determination A Report by IRSS, February 2009, Page 46. Further, he says that,
" A shaped charge could be delivered by a general-aviation aircraft used as a cruise missile in remote-control or kamikaze mode. Alternatively, shaped charges could be placed by attackers who reach the target locations by parachute, ultralight aircraft, helicopter, or site penetration from land or the Hudson River. The attack might involve a standoff component in which shaped-charge warheads are delivered from an offsite location by an instrument such as the TOW (tube-launched, optically-tracked, wire-guided) missile. A shaped charge could be the first stage of a tandem device. In that configuration, the first stage penetrates a structure and is followed by a second stage that damages equipment inside the penetrated structure via fragmentation, blast, incendiary or "thermobaric" effects. Arms manufacturers are actively developing tandem-warhead systems. For example, in January 2008 Raytheon tested the shaped-charge penetrating stage for its Tandem Warhead System.132 The shaped charge penetrated 19 feet into steel-reinforced concrete with a compressive strength of 12,600 psi. The purpose of this new system is to penetrate a target protected by concrete, steel and rock barriers, and to cause damage inside the target. Development of the system was self-funded by Raytheon. The current version would have a mass of about 1,000 pounds in its tandem configuration. Raytheon states that it could scale the technology, which implies both larger and smaller versions.”
Vulnerability: The spent-fuel pool at Pilgrim is outside primary containment and in the attic of the reactor with a thin roof overhead. Neither the pool walls nor the outside reactor building wall are thick enough to deter such a weapon. A sub-national group could obtain the instruments needed to breach the wall. That action would cause the water level in the pool to fall to near the top of the spent-fuel storage racks. Thereafter, the remaining water would boil and, if makeup water were not supplied, the pool could boil dry in about a day. As fuel assemblies became exposed, their temperature would rise. An assembly exposed for the majority of its length could heat up to ignition temperature in a few hours [Gordon Thompson, The Potential for a Large, Atmospheric Release of Radioactive Material from Spent Fuel Pools at the Harris Nuclear Power Plant: The Case of a Pool Release Initiated by a Severe Reactor Accident (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Institute for Resource and Security Studies, 20 November 2000]. The core, also, is vulnerable to such a weapon.