Share This

Defense Department Did Not Request or Validate Nuclear Plant Security Report

Aug. 27, 2013—The U.S. Department of Defense did not request or validate a recent study on security at America’s nuclear energy facilities by the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Project, a DOD official said.

“The Department of Defense did provide funding to the University of Texas at Austin, but did not request a report on that specific topic, nor did we validate its findings,” the Defense Department official said.

The NPPP is based in the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin.

The report, written by a University of Texas graduate research assistant, reviews various threats to commercial nuclear reactors and other nuclear energy facilities. It concludes that the basis for each facility’s security plan—the design-basis threat—should “be made more rational” and modified so that it is “the same for all U.S. nuclear facilities.”

Notably, the research assistant did not have the security clearance necessary to access the design-basis threat.

The report’s authors said it was “prepared as part of a larger inter-disciplinary study at the University of Texas at Austin for the Office of the Secretary of Defense, which provided financial support for the research.” Publicity for the report stated that “the report was prepared under a contract for the Pentagon.” In a later statement, Alan Kuperman, coordinator of the NPPP, said that the “working paper was written for, submitted to, and partially funded by the Department of Defense.”

In a blog post last week, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said its regulations require nuclear power plants to be secure against potential seaborne and aircraft attacks.

“First, both new and existing reactors must mitigate against potential attacks using commercial aircraft; in fact our Aircraft Impact Assessment Rule requires design features for new plants to mitigate the effects of an airplane crash, and the NRC’s post-September 11 orders require existing plants to implement similar mitigating measures,” the NRC said. “Second, NRC regulations, based upon the design basis threat, do in fact require licensees to guard against waterborne attacks or explosives.”

The NRC also said it appeared that the NPPP used only public information in creating the report. “[The] report … used non-sensitive “open-source” information to assess the protections in place to counter terrorist threats to nuclear facilities in the United States,” the NRC said.

This means the authors of the report did not have access to safeguarded information that they would need to make a full security assessment.

“Nuclear power plants are widely acknowledged to be the best-defended facilities among the nation’s critical infrastructure,” NEI said in a statement responding to the NPPP report. “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 NPPP report] 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,” NEI said.