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Nuclear Energy Institute
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TIME’s Article Fails to Note Strength Of Nuclear Power Plant Security

WASHINGTON—The latest issue of TIME magazine contains an article, “Are These Towers Safe?” on nuclear power plant security. The following statement from the Nuclear Energy Institute’s chief nuclear officer, Marvin Fertel, addresses the article.

“The TIME magazine article on nuclear power plant security has a fatal journalistic flaw in that it fails to provide any context with regard to the overall state of security in our nation’s industrial infrastructure. Numerous independent assessments of nuclear power plant security – not a single one of which TIME could find the space in its lengthy article to mention – have identified nuclear power plants as among the best, if not the best, defended facilities in the U.S. industrial infrastructure.

“These assessments have come from experts with entities as diverse as the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Progressive Policy Institute, the National Center for Public Policy Research and many of the nation’s governors and members of Congress, not to mention the Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

“The nuclear energy industry has safely secured the nation’s nuclear plants for more than two decades, with federally regulated requirements that protect our facilities, our employees and our plant neighbors. We are committed to taking those steps necessary to meet federal security requirements and have demonstrated that commitment time and again since the 9-11 terrorist attacks. For example, the industry is supporting legislation in Congress that includes additional security measures, including making a wider range of weapons available to plant security officers.

“Criticizing the size of the design basis threat imposed by the NRC is fallacious and misleading since the nuclear energy industry is the only industry in the commercial sector that even has a design basis threat and conducts force-on-force exercises to test and improve our security strategies. Additionally, the nuclear energy industry has taken the lead in working with the Department of Homeland Security to integrate federal, state and local security resources and to plan comprehensive responses to air, land and water threats – including a force similar to the 9-11 attack.

“The lone comparison that the TIME article makes to another sector is to state that ‘the U.S. has spent $20 billion improving aviation security since 9/11.’ Given the fact that the aviation sector has thousands of facilities and commercial aircraft to protect, TIME’s contrast to the more than $1 billion in security enhancements at our industry’s 64 nuclear plant sites is a meaningless, apples-to-oranges comparison.

“Similarly, TIME did its readers a disservice with its characterization of a ‘big gap’ in security standards at commercial nuclear power plants that use low-enriched uranium fuel and federal facilities that ‘house nuclear weapons and their key components.’ If TIME cannot grasp, or doesn’t care to make, the distinction between the effects of a nuclear bomb that is designed to release destructive energy and a nuclear power plant that is designed to generate useful energy, then one wonders why it’s reporting in this area in the first place. The difference is huge, and TIME’s journalistic lapse in this regard is egregious.

“While TIME has given long-standing critics of nuclear power a fresh bite at the apple, it should have held some of their claims to the same level of scrutiny it imposes on the industry. For example, Edwin Lyman’s so-called study on the ramifications of a successful attack at a nuclear power plant took worst-case information from disparate sources and postulated that it could be combined into a scenario that is not credible. It was, in short, bad science.

“And in citing the 1982 Sandia National Laboratories study, TIME showed that it didn’t want current information to stand in the way of a sensationalized story. For six months now, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has had posted on its Web site an emergency preparedness backgrounder that states, with regard to the 1982 Sandia study: ‘These terms come from a 1982 Sandia National Laboratory report that is unrelated to emergency planning and in no way represents a realistic assessment of accident consequences.’ In other words, TIME says that Lyman’s claims ‘echo’ a study that the NRC has discredited and whose authors plainly state was not intended to reflect reality.

“These are but a few of the article’s shortcomings and one-sided characterizations. The shame in all of this is that some readers will fail to recognize that TIME has presented a myopic view of industrial security that ignores the nuclear energy industry’s standing as the security leader in the private sector.”


The Nuclear Energy Institute is the nuclear energy industry’s policy organization. This news release and additional information about nuclear energy are available on NEI’s Internet site at