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What's Wrong With Pilgrim's Security?

Modes of Attack: AIR - WATER - LAND

The potential for a deliberate attack on a commercial nuclear facility arises within a larger context, namely the general threat environment for the US homeland. Nuclear reactors are vulnerable to attack from the air, water and land. Security at present is inadequate.

Air Based Attack

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,

"Since September 2001, TSA [the Transportation Security Administration] has taken limited action to improve general aviation security, leaving it far more open and potentially vulnerable than commercial aviation. General aviation is vulnerable because general aviation pilots are not screened before takeoff and the contents of general aviation planes are not screened at any point. General aviation includes more than 200,000 privately owned airplanes, which are located in every state at more than 19,000 airports. Over 550 of these airports also provide commercial service. In the last 5 years, about 70 aircraft have been stolen from general aviation airports, indicating a potential weakness that could be exploited by terrorists." [Gerald L. Dillingham, US General Accounting Office, testimony before the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, US Senate, "Aviation Security: Progress Since September 11, 2001, and the Challenges Ahead",  September 9, 2003, page 14.]

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."

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. 

Current Status: Since September 11, 2001, a “no fly” zone was put into effect for a short period, and was then eliminated. Because of the proximity of Boston and other airports, a “no fly” zone cannot be large enough to permit effective response by Air Force or National Guard fighter aircraft. Even at the relatively slow speed of 300 miles per hour, a ten-mile “no fly” zone would provide only 2 minutes advance warning. The time for the two interceptor jets on “high alert” to be airborne is ten minutes. To be effective a no-fly zone would have to be 100 miles – crippling US air industry.

March 25, 2002, it was announced that Coast Guard helicopters would fly over the reactor site. Again, what is the probability that they would be flying overhead exactly when an attack was happening? Also  Coast Guard resources are severely limited so that thy fly over infrequently.

There is no capability of immediate armed response. Current NRC regulations do not require security from an air attack.

Options to Reduce Risk:

A. Strengthening commercial airport security: Good idea to deal with terrorism in general but will not solve our problem – it will not prevent attacks using smaller, explosive laden aircraft.

B. Harden: Harden the reactor building, support structures and spent fuel storage systems. Hardening everything is too expensive. Clearly moving most of the spent fuel out of the pool to secured dry cask storage – casks reinforced with earth and gravel, spaced 60 feet (not 6 feet) apart and bringing the pool back to the original low-density design would both decrease the attractiveness of the target and reduce the consequence if attacked. But we need more.

C. No-fly zones: They cannot be wide enough. An airplane traveling at 300 miles per hour would penetrate a 10 mile keep-out zone in two minutes, far too little time for fighter aircraft on strip alert to respond. Moreover, according to the NRC data, 21 reactors are located within five miles of an airport. In order to be effective, keep-out zones would have to have radii of order of 100 miles or larger and such keep-out zones would cripple U.S. aviation. Small keep-out zones within a few miles of reactors might be useful for preventing pilots of small aircraft from making practice flights to scout out the approaches to power plants.

Keep-out zones could be effective (and would be needed) if used in combination with air defense weapons. 

D. Fighter aircraft: Keeping fighter aircraft on continuous patrol is impractical. There are 63 active reactor sites would put a huge burden on the U.S. military. For each aircraft on patrol, several others would need to be in various stages preparation and maintenance. Thus it is likely that something of the order of 300 aircraft or more would have to be dedicated to this mission, and a much larger number of pilots, technicians, and support personnel. 

Beamhenge Shields: These are I- Beams and cable cages at stand off distances around critical structures. A petition was filed by the Committee to Bridge the Gap with the NRC to construct shields composed of I-beams with steel or other cabling and netting between them at standoff distances around the key structures at nuclear power plants. Airplanes or jets attempting to attack sensitive structures would instead crash into the surrounding Beamhenge shield, leaving intact the reactor, spent fuel pool, and support facilities, thus protecting the public from damage that would result in substantial radioactive releases. The Beamhenge concept may also provide some measure of protection against such weapons as shoulder launched rockets, causing them to detonate before reaching the intended target. I-beams are relatively inexpensive, and their installation can be done quickly and with modest expenditures.

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.  

Raytheon Phalanx Close-In Weapon System




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.

  • Placing them on site reduces the potential of an attack that government studies show will contaminate 500 miles if the spent fuel is hit, or if the core is hit, a 20-mile peak fatal radius the first year and a 65 mile peak injury radius. 

  • We are at risk. Nuclear plants are targets and vulnerable to aircraft attacks - especially small, explosive-laden planes. 

  • There does not seem to be another viable response to this threat – doing nothing is not an option.

  • These short-range anti-aircraft systems exist and could be rapidly deployed to greatly reduce the danger of an aircraft causing a radiological disaster.


In the News - December 2004

Threat to nuke plant revealed

By Shir Haberman - December 17, 2004

PORTSMOUTH - Officials at both the state Bureau of Emergency Management and Seabrook Station say they are aware of intelligence information about an alleged Iranian plot to crash commercial airliners into the N.H. nuclear power plant. However, spokesmen for both organizations discounted those reports.

State Emergency Management spokesman Jim Van Dongen acknowledged that his boss, Bruce Cheney, the agency’s director, is aware of the issue, but he added that the agency has not received any information directly from the federal Department of Homeland Security.

"There is always that general possibility (of a terrorist attack on the Seabrook reactor)," said Van Dongen, "but we haven’t received any information that it’s going to happen tomorrow."

Al Griffith, spokesman for Seabrook Station, said he’s not sure why this issue is resurfacing now, nearly two years after he first responded to media inquiries about threats against nuclear power plants.

"This was part of the information that was shared between appropriate law enforcement agencies," said Griffith. "What happens is that whenever we get this type of information we make a determination in conjunction with law enforcement. In this case we felt the information did not warrant any further action on our part."

The New York Sun newspaper reported on Tuesday that U.S. Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa., beginning in February 2003, has held a series of secret meetings in Paris with a former high-ranking official in the government of the former shah of Iran. According to Weldon, his source has correctly predicted a number of internal developments in Iran, ranging from the current regime’s atomic weapons programs to its support for international terrorist groups, including al-Qaida, the newspaper reported in an article by Eli Lake.

Based on two informants inside the ruling mullahs’ inner circle, Weldon’s source, whom he code-named "Ali," relayed allegations to the Pennsylvania lawmaker that an Iranian-backed terrorist cell is seeking to hijack Canadian airliners and crash them into an American reactor. The target of the operation was only identified by Ali as "SEA," leading Weldon to believe it was the Seabrook reactor.

Ali reportedly told the congressman that the attack was first planned for between Nov. 23 and Dec. 3, 2003, but was postponed to take place after this year’s presidential election.

On Aug. 22, 2003, the Toronto Star reported the arrest of 19 people in Canada for immigration violations, who were also suspected of being connected with a terrorist conspiracy. According to the newspaper account, one of the men in the alleged terrorist cell was taking flight lessons and had flown an airplane directly over an Ontario nuclear power plant.


Water 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.

The primary concerns regarding water-borne attacks are (1) using a boat as a bomb delivery vehicle (floating or submerged explosives) targeting the reactor or other key building onsite and/or placing a charge up the intake canal to disrupt the cooling system; and (2) using a boat as a commando transport vehicle.

Current Status
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.

The “exclusion” zone was breached – for example, two groups of teens were partying on the beach and one kayaker was tanning on the beach inside the 500 yard exclusion area; motor boats used the buoys as a slalom course.


alternatively, drop chain nets from floating barriers to ocean floor to prevent submerged explosives or divers. For example, in World War II some harbors and sensitive waterfront areas were blocked off by heavy chain fences strung between buoys that dropped to the floor of the harbor. The New York Times Magazine (February 2003) stated that in response to the terrorist threat, Baltimore had done the same thing - driven pilings in areas in their harbor and attached chain to make the exclusion zone impenetrable. This could be done at Pilgrim – adjusting the chains to account for the tide. A chain grate of sorts going to the floor should block the mouth of the intake canal.

  • 24 –hour, armed surveillance – Install radar on shore to detect any boat attempting to breach the zone. Assign guards, 24-hours, on shore duty capable to respond – armed heavily so that they are able to take out an incoming craft and allowed to use force to stop an intruder – make the immediate judgment call to act. We understand that they can only use force if they or their team are actually under attack.

  • Place a barrier across the intake canal 

    News from Ed Markey -  March 8, 2005


    Markey probes allegation that free nuclear reactor security device was refused

    Washington, DC:  Representative Edward J. Markey (D-MA), a senior Member of the Homeland Security Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the panel which oversees the regulation of nuclear reactors, today released a letter sent to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) regarding an allegation received by his office that Dominion Nuclear Connecticut Inc., the licensee of the Millstone nuclear power plant, refused the NRC's offer to install a free device that would greatly enhance security at the facility because it didn't want to assume the maintenance costs.   

    "I am deeply concerned that this information, if true, reflects a lack of commitment for the security of the power plant on the part of the licensee and a disregard for the health and safety of the nearby communities," said Rep. Markey. 

    Many nuclear power plants which employ a "once-through" cooling system, including Millstone, Pilgrim and Seabrook, pump in millions of gallons of water per day through water intake structures located on nearby bodies of water.  In the case of the Millstone plant, these structures are located on Niantic Bay, an estuary of the Long Island Sound. The water is constantly circulated through complex systems to cool the reactor and maintain the temperature where spent fuel is stored in pools, among other functions. 

    If an interruption in the flow of water from the intake structures occurs, there would be a serious threat to the safe operation of the facility, and a catastrophic meltdown could ensue. Al Qaeda has long considered U.S. nuclear facilities to be attractive terrorist targets, and a waterborne attack is one method terrorists could use.  There is currently no obstacle in place at the Millstone facility water intake structures to impede an attack by, for example, suicidal terrorists who drive a motorboat laden with explosives into the intake structures at the facility.   

    Rep. Markey's office was informed that in 2004, the Commission offered to install a device - at no cost - at the Millstone water intake structures to serve the purpose of impeding and thwarting such a postulated waterborne attack.  However, Rep. Markey's office was also informed that the licensee rejected the offer because it did not wish to assume costs to maintain the device. 

    Rep. Markey's letter requested information regarding: 

    • Whether the information received regarding the Millstone facility is accurate.
    • Whether the Commission has made similar offers to install free security equipment at other similar reactors such as Pilgrim and Seabrook, and if so what the outcome was.
    • Whether the Commission has made offers to install other types of security equipment at any other reactors, and if so, what the outcome was.

    For a copy of the letter released today, please go to


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. 

Three men were caught with camera equipment on the grounds surrounding Pilgrim and were arrested and interrogated by federal and local authorities, 09.03. The good news is that they were caught and up to no mischief. The bad news is that they were able to get on site for a stroll in the first place.

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. 

Current status:
The NRC's updated security rules (DBT, January 2007) calls for five security guards on site per shift, according to the LA Times. Post 9/11 we need to defend against attacking forces equal to those of the terrorist attack on September 11, 2002, plus a margin of safety, in numbers, teams, capabilities, planning, willingness to die, and other characteristics. The terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, involved 19 attackers in 4 teams. The DBT regulations should be changed to include at least 19 attackers, plus a margin of safety above that level.

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?
For a complete analysis visit the Project on Government Accountability’s (POGO) website at

In the event of a terrorist attack, the NRC does not require a facility to be able to defeat the attack without help from the outside - SWAT units from the local sheriff, State Police or the FBI. The NRC only requires that the security guards are capable of delaying the attack long enough for outside help to arrive.

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:

  • Assemble SWAT unit;

  • Transport SWAT unit to the site;

  • Conduct security briefing to inform the SWAT unit about where the terrorists are located and how they are armed; and

  • Coordinate the actions of the SWAT unit with those of the guard force. 

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.

Consider the following:

  • Are Pilgrim’s security guards familiar with the group arriving? The guards may not allow them on site, thinking they are a second wave of terrorists.

  • Are they familiar with the layout of the reactor?

  • Are they familiar with the key targets that must be protected?

  • How are they going to communicate and coordinate their actions with Pilgrim’s guards? 

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.

Numbers outside support inadequate: After 9/11, a few National Guardsmen were assigned to patrol outside Pilgrim’s property – not on site. Their purpose is essentially to serve as the canary in the coal mines – if shot, a warning to on-site guards. The Legislature authorizes paying for the patrols. Key questions unanswered are how many and are they properly equipped?


On-site security personnel-problems on-site security at nuclear reactors:

Under-manned: Prior to 9/11, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) required only five to ten security guards on duty per nuclear reactor. Since then, the NRC has ordered the utilities to minimally increase the guard force. But more than half the guards POGO interviewed say their plants are relying on increased overtime of the existing guard force -- up to six consecutive days of 12-hour shifts -- rather than hiring more guards. Guards raised serious concerns about fatigue. While a few guards said their plants have increased the guard force -- one plant has tripled the number of guards -- most interviewed believe that they are still below adequate levels to defeat a real terrorist attack. Pilgrim’s security workers went on strike during the summer, 2003 protesting 12 hour shifts for 4 days without 3 consecutive days off.

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 ( 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."
In response to POGO's findings, the NRC issued two new orders requiring nuclear power plants to improve training of security officers and to limit the amount of overtime that officers are obligated to work so that they are not fatigued. It is too soon to judge if the order has been followed through and made any difference.


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.


Table 7-7 - Performance of US Army Shaped Charges, M3 and M2A3

Target Material


M3 shaped charge

M2A3 Shaped Charge



Maximum wall thickness that can be perforated

60 in

36 in


Depth of penetration in thick walls

• 5 in at entrance

• 2 in minimum


• 3.5 in at entrance

• 2 in minimum

Depth of hole with second charge placed over first hole 

84 in


45 in

Armor Plate


At least 20 in 12 in


12 in


Average diameter of hole

2.5 in

1.5 in



(a) Data are from: Army, 1967, pp 13-15 and page 100.

(b) The M2A3 charge has a mass of 12 lb, a maximum diameter of 7 in, and a total length

of 15 in including the standoff ring.

(c) The M3 charge has a mass of 30 lb, a maximum diameter of 9 in, a charge length of

15.5 in, and a standoff pedestal 15 in long.


9.  The air analysis is based on research by Dr. George Lewis Associate Director, Security Studies Program, MIT Cambridge MA 02139.

10.  Nuclear Power Plant Security: Voices from Inside the Fences, Project on Government Oversight, September 12, 2002, see full report on


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