Past, present and future

The real truth about nuclear power plant security

1 February 2002

It is unfortunate that, in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks, a few special-interest groups have sought to further their nuclear phase-out agenda by spinning tales of nuclear disaster. Their conjecture is alarmist and irresponsible, and has been discredited repeatedly by officials attentive to security issues. By Ralph Beedle, chief nuclear officer, Nuclear Energy Institute

Since the tragic events of September 11, security concerns have become an overwhelming priority for America's industrial infrastructure, airports and other civil services. Many of these organisations have had to change their entire security procedures in light of the changed world that we live in.

Fortunately for the nation's nuclear power plants, this hasn't been the case. The nuclear industry has implemented a number of security enhancements, but the reality is that nuclear power plants were the most secure industrial facilities in the USA before September 11, and are even more secure today.

Designed for disaster

James Kallstrom, director of the New York Office of Public Security, said after a review of the Indian Point nuclear station: "What I care about is the security of this plant, the ability of a terrorist organisation to take it over, and I can tell you, it's robust enough to let 'em try…That may be one way of flushing them out."

No business can guarantee prevention of acts of war against their facilities like the September 11 attacks. But nuclear power plants already are among the most robust and closely protected facilities, and the industry is working with federal, state and local authorities to ensure that there is a seamless response to guard against acts of war.

Nuclear power plant buildings that protect the reactor are extremely strong and designed to resist catastrophes. The steel reinforced concrete containment structures have been designed to withstand the impact of hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and airborne objects with tremendous force. Nuclear plants were designed with a defence-in-depth safety strategy that includes metal sleeves that hold the low-enriched uranium fuel, and a combined 12 feet of concrete and steel between the reactor fuel and the outside of the reactor building.

The industry employs state-of-the-art electronic surveillance, sensor technology and rigourous personnel screening procedures to augment plant security programmes. Computer-controlled gates requiring positive identification of personnel control entry to the plants. In addition, the security programmes at nuclear power plants are constantly updated to take advantage of new technology and to counter new potential threats as they evolve.

All 103 operating US nuclear reactors and the fuel facilities licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) meet stringent federal security regulations. Since September 11, the industry has been at a heightened security level and is continuously monitored by the NRC, which is in constant contact with the intelligence community, federal law enforcement agencies and the military.

Secure energy

Physical security is just one component of our overall energy security. Energy is the vital foundation of America's national security and economy, with reliable electricity the underpinning and catalyst for our technology-driven society. Nuclear energy is essential to the US economy, providing 20% of the nation's electricity supply.

In spite of the slowing economy, the demand for electricity is growing. The US Energy Information Administration estimates that the USA will require almost 50% more electric generating capacity between now and 2020. Nuclear plants in the USA are producing record amounts of electricity - over 754 billion kWh a year since the turn of the century.

During this time, nuclear plants have operated at well over 90% efficiency — the best round-the-clock operation of any energy source. In addition to outstanding reliability and low production costs (an industry average of 1.74 cents per kWh in 2000), nuclear energy is needed to meet reduction goals for greenhouse gas emissions, primarily carbon dioxide. Put simply, if nuclear power were not used nationwide, approximately 135 million passenger cars would have to be removed from our roadways to keep US carbon dioxide emissions in balance.

We cannot realise our goals of energy security and environmental stewardship without nuclear energy. An economy that increasingly relies on computers and electro-technology must have an ample supply of reliable electricity to power those devices. There simply is no way to have a coherent, forward-looking energy policy without significant use of nuclear energy.

Implications of security force federalisation

Since September 11, the US nuclear energy industry has reviewed nuclear plant security requirements and assessed the advantages and disadvantages of federalising security professionals. This review included: • Policy and implementation issues associated with federalising nuclear power plant security forces. • Attributes of an effective security force, how it might be affected by federalisation, and the related NRC regulatory requirements. • Characteristics of the existing nuclear plant security force, regulated under Title 10 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 73. • Industry-supported security improvements that should be implemented. The Nuclear Energy Institute presents the findings and conclusions of the review in its report: “Implications of Security Force Federalization on Nuclear Power Plant Security”. Its conclusions are summarised here. Division of responsibility Federal employment would result in a division of responsibility for activities on a privately owned site. There would be two separate chains of command for site employees — one for the security force and one for the plant operating personnel. This may result in a cooperative working relationship during routine plant activity. But, in the event of a threat against the facility, this division of responsibility could hinder the plant’s response. Protecting a nuclear facility against intruders requires highly coordinated action on the part of both the reactor operating professionals and the security forces. Reactor safety could be compromised without excellent coordination. Given the variety of tactical situations that could exist under an attack, this coordination must occur in real time and under rapidly changing circumstances. Dual chains of command would make this coordination very difficult, if not impossible. Dual chains of command also complicate efficiency of operations. The size and tactical deployment of security forces is highly dependent on physical features and the use of intrusion detection and monitoring systems. The placement and use of these systems also impacts equipment accessibility for plant operating staffs, which in turn has an impact on reactor safety during normal operation and if the facility faces an attack. Resolution of these conflicting interests to achieve high levels of both efficiency and protection will be adversely affected by a bifurcation of accountability. Security forces at nuclear facilities have multiple responsibilities. They are responsible for industrial security and protection of the plant assets on a daily basis. But they also must demonstrate the ability to protect the facility from a defined attack scenario, as required by NRC regulation. Undertaking both roles, a federal employer will face a broad range of new liabilities. This will impose a significant new dimension for the federal government and will become a distinct disadvantage to federal employment. Conversely, the dual responsibilities associated with private employment of a federally regulated security force is a significant advantage. It allows the private employer to provide a more diverse set of assignments for security forces. Without such diversity, the security forces would be relegated to armed sentry duties only. Maintaining a highly alert security posture is difficult without this diversity of assignments. Alternative Changes Whether the security force is federally or privately employed, there are necessary and beneficial legislative changes directly impacting the effectiveness of the security force that the industry and the NRC recommend. Without new legislation, some security forces are restricted in the use of deadly force, and state/local laws limit the weapons that may be deployed on private property. Federal legislation is needed to remove these constraints and make security programmes consistent nationwide. Clearly, private employees provide excellent nuclear power plant security. Routine security could be accomplished by federal employees, but this entails significant difficulties that would result in diminished safety, security and efficiency both during a transition period and in the long run. The industry supports a broad analysis to determine the threats we now face and develop a seamless defence that integrates the capabilities of our industry, state and local governments, and the federal government, including the CIA, FBI, FEMA and the military. Broader acts of war and the relative risks of the facilities should be considered as part of this comprehensive analysis. Nuclear power plants are the most robust physical structures in the industrial sector and are protected by highly skilled, well-armed paramilitary forces. The industry has been at the highest state of alert since September 11 and is reviewing its security programmes to incorporate lessons learned from the attacks. The NRC also is conducting a “top-to-bottom” review of the federal regulations that apply to nuclear plant security. More than 20 of the nation’s governors, state security directors and members of Congress who have toured nuclear power facilities since September 11 have commented on the outstanding security programmes of those facilities. The nuclear energy industry has always had an uncompromising commitment to safety and security. The industry remains committed to providing the best possible security for workers at our plants, their families and residents of 31 states who live near the nation’s nuclear plants. The industry will work with the Bush administration and Congress to review and enhance our security as may be required in light of recent events. However, a transition from private to federal security forces at nuclear plants is an ill-conceived and misguided proposal that provides no enhanced protection of the public or the nuclear power facilities that provide electricity for one of every five American homes and businesses.

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