Reporting security

3 September 2012

We publish an overview of the European Commission’s review of nuclear power plant security, in the August 2012 issue of NEI. Even if this is just the tip of the iceberg—this is the group’s first public report, following a classified interim report—I was disappointed by the results.

I’ll back up. This report was the result of the other post-Fukushima European stress test project; not in nuclear safety, but in security. Like the safety stress tests, it was organised by an ad hoc group of European regulator types and involved a questionnaire to member nations.

But that is pretty much where the similarities end. The European stress tests aimed to establish a common benchmark: stations reported to national regulators, regulators reported to Europe, regulators visited countries, and comparisons were carried out. Result: lots of information, reviewed and cross-checked in several different ways, analysis, and country-by-country conclusions, by topic, all freely available on the internet.

In contrast, the security document speaks in abstract generalities. It admits that its 32 examples of ‘good practice’ have been censored so much that all context has been removed. Its authors say that there will be no national security assessments. In other words, there are lots of ‘shoulds’, but no ‘is’; lots of suggestions, no reality.

Most of the report is a lot of security principles so general that the text sounds like the kinds of IAEA security standards (INFOCIRC 225) that it recommends. Small wonder; they were probably written by the same person. Which leads to my next complaint: its authors are not named. The lack of identification hurts its credibility. Why can’t it list its authors? Are they afraid of being kidnapped? (Come to think of it, that could be a real risk after having reviewed such a lot of extremely sensitive information. But if so, why not say that?)

Here is exactly everything the security document says about the results of its country survey. First, about the survey: ‘To a large extent these replies addressed the questionnaire in a comprehensive manner.’ Later on, ‘The analysis of their replies has shown that all member states have established a nuclear security regime based on the principles of the CPPNM with its Amendment and IAEA recommendations. The nuclear security regimes are commensurate to the extent of the nuclear industry in each state.’

These words frustrated me. With regard to the first sentence: who didn’t answer the questions comprehensively, why not, and did they get the information in the end? The second sentence is weak, but justifiable, at least. While these documents may be a good place to start, I want to know how their efforts end.

I think the third sentence is meant to pat me on the head and tell me not to worry. But I don’t believe it. Although ‘commensurate to the extent of the nuclear industry’ may be a nice turn of phrase, I don’t understand what it means. Five guards for each fuel factory? Twenty-five guards for each reactor, plus a regional security HQ? In my opinion, there is no way that nuclear security would ramp up in exactly the same way as a function of nuclear MWe installed across all of Europe’s diversity in wealth and tradition. And without a common metric, how can they justify that assertion?

I am not asking for sight of the evidence, but I would like credible generalisations.

I think that in writing this report, the commission gave up too easily, knowing that so much detail would be removed from public view. This may be adequate for now. As Fukushima wasn’t a security breach, the general public does not need reassuring on that score. But to me, it does beg the question, what if it there had been a security element to Fukushima; how would this body, or one like it, deal with the competing imperatives of security secrecy versus disclosure for the public interest?

One of the report’s sections discusses linkages between security and safety; a security event could lead to a nuclear safety issue. But during this project, the authors of this report did not follow their own advice; they did not liaise with safety stress test project, owing to extremely tight deadlines. It all seems like a wasted opportunity.

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This article was first published in the August 2012 issue of Nuclear Engineering International

Starting from a position of great adversity seems to have something to do with nuclear power success. Like South Korea, Japan had experienced a major war which ended in national devastation. Taiwan developed in the shadow of its big communist brother just across the narrow straits which regards the island as part of its sovereign territory. Such difficult beginnings seem to forge a feeling of national unity.

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