WASHINGTON, D.C.—Nuclear power plants are widely acknowledged to be the best-defended facilities among the nation’s critical infrastructure. Independent security experts share the industry’s belief that nuclear power plants are well-defended and secure, including assessments by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Progressive Policy Institute.
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission holds nuclear power plants to the highest security standards of any American industry, and industry exceeds those standards. Based on its regular interactions with federal intelligence and law enforcement authorities, the NRC establishes the threat against which the industry must be protected and sets stringent standards that the industry’s private security forces must meet.
A report by a graduate research assistant at the University of Texas’ Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Project, released Aug. 15, is an academic paper developed for discussion among academia of the appropriate security levels at nuclear energy facilities. It is not a full assessment of security, nor does the author of the report have access to the safeguarded information that she would need to make such as assessment.
Like many such evaluations that examine the potential theft of uranium fuel from commercial reactors, the NPPP report fails to explain how attackers would be able to dislodge highly irradiated uranium fuel—800 to 1,200-pound, 18-foot-tall fuel bundles—and maneuver them from reactors, storage pools or steel and concrete containers past layers of elaborate security.
Approximately 9,000 highly trained and well-armed security officers, augmented by comprehensive detection and surveillance systems, defend the nation’s 62 nuclear power plant sites. This is a 60 percent increase in the size of nuclear plant security forces since 2001. These private forces, a large percentage from military and law enforcement backgrounds, are drilled and tested regularly to ensure their readiness, including force-on-force exercises that are evaluated by federal regulators. An integrated security and response plan with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies ensures robust and extensive site protection.
U.S. nuclear plants were safe and secure before Sept. 11, 2001. They are even safer and more secure today, on the strength of more than $2 billion in additional security investment encompassing substantial physical enhancements at plant sites. Every reactor design used to generate nearly one-fifth of America’s electricity has been assessed for the potential of aircraft impacts and each design would protect against damage to the reactor fuel and used uranium fuel that is safely and securely stored at nuclear energy facilities.