WASHINGTON—Nuclear power plant security has been strengthened during the past six years through a commitment of more than $2 billion, including the addition of thousands of security officers, better weaponry and detection equipment, and a finely integrated response strategy with federal, state and local resources, a nuclear industry executive told the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
“America’s commercial nuclear power plants have long been the most secure facilities in our nation’s critical infrastructure,” said Marvin Fertel, the Nuclear Energy Institute’s executive vice president and chief nuclear officer. “Even so, we have made huge changes since the September 11 terrorist attacks, and they are considerably more secure today.”
The industry’s investment in robust security to protect these critical energy facilities includes a 60-percent increase in the number of specially trained, well-armed forces since 2001—from 5,000 to 8,000 at 65 nuclear plant sites. The entirety of the nation’s nuclear security infrastructure is independently tested and evaluated by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Nuclear power plants have a clear security advantage in that the structures that house reactors and critical operating and safety systems are built to withstand extreme natural events, such as hurricanes, tornadoes and floods. Concentric security perimeters include physical barriers to protect against unauthorized entry and vehicle intrusion, and security zones are patrolled by well-trained, highly armed officers, who may use protective steel defensive positions located throughout the plant if challenged.
In the inner-most security zone, access to vital areas is strictly controlled using biometrics and other technologies. Security areas also are constantly monitored using state-of-the-art detection equipment.
“The industry is proud of its security programs and the example they provide for other sectors of America’s critical infrastructure,” said Fertel, who invited members of the congressional panel to tour a nuclear plant to see security firsthand. The industry was first among the critical infrastructure sectors to volunteer for comprehensive security reviews involving federal, state and local resources that could be called upon in the event of a credible threat at a nuclear power plant.
As part of its commitment to security, the nuclear energy industry has taken aggressive action in response to recent security officer inattentiveness incidents. Although the 12 instances of security officer inattentiveness reported to the NRC in 2007 is small relative to the 16 million man-hours on duty securing U.S. nuclear plants, Fertel said that behavior is unacceptable to the industry.
NEI last year organized an industry task force to examine security organization and cultural issues, and recommended to the industry measures that could be effective for ensuring security officer attentiveness. Among the measures is a structured evaluation of each security post to identify whether the environment promotes attentiveness.
Fertel told the Senate panel that the industry also regularly conducts large-scale “force-on-force” exercises, performed to test the defensive capabilities of nuclear plant security forces. Each nuclear plant has undergone this series of exercises, which includes mock terrorist attacks of the plant by a specially trained adversary force that is skilled in offensive tactics. This adversary team is comprised of full-time, highly trained security experts that test each plant’s security capability to the exacting standards required by the federal government. The NRC independently evaluates both the performance of the adversary team and the industry’s security capabilities and strategies during the force-on-force exercises.
“It is highly unlikely that attackers could successfully breach security at a nuclear power plant and even more unlikely that they could produce a release of radiation that would endanger the residents near the plant,” Fertel said.
“Security at our nuclear power plants is not static. We are constantly reviewing and re-evaluating our security programs. Consequently, America’s nuclear energy industry will continue to be a leader and model for protecting our country’s critical infrastructure,” Fertel said.