Second quarter of 2002
US prepare to face new terrorist attack, but most of nuclear reactors
could not withstand it
WISE-Paris, 23 May 2002
While aviation security issues, in particular the
handling of the pre-September 11 attacks, continue to be discussed,
FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) Director Robert Mueller declared
on 20 May 2002 that "another terrorist attack" in the United
States was not to be excluded (1). The uncertainty
about the type of future terror attacks leaves all catastrophe-scenarios
open. After September 11, one of them is a deliberate plane crash on
a nuclear installation. But security at nuclear sites has hardly improved
and is far from being satisfactory, as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission
(NRC) had to admit earlier in 2002.
On 4 March 2002, the NRC addressed answers to Democrat
Congressman Edward Markeys correspondence, in which he had requested
explanations on the safety and security measures applied on the US nuclear
sites, following the 11 September terrorist attacks (2).
The responses, commented by Ed Markeys staff,
are quite appalling. According to the NRC, 99 of the 103 US active commercial
nuclear reactors were designed without regard to the potential for impact
of even a small aircraft. For 56 reactors located on 37 sites, the probability
of an accidental aircraft crash was considered to be low enough not
to be incorporated into the designs. Whereas, 43 reactors located on
28 different sites dont even consider the probability of an accident
involving an aircraft crash.
Only 4 reactors were designed including the possibility
of an aircraft crash. Yet, the reactor designs were evaluated to consider
impacts from aircraft weighing up to 12,500 pounds (around 5,700 kg).
Which represents 3 to 4 percent of the maximum weight of a Boeing 757/767
like the ones used in the attacks of 11 September 2001, which can weigh
up to 450,000 pounds (around 200,000 kg).
The NRC has rejected installing anti-aircraft missiles
at nuclear facilities, adding that there would be enormous command
and control problems and a large potential for unintended consequences
and collateral damages if such weaponry were deployed. No-fly-zones
were decided on 2 November 2001 but were levied a week later.
- Suicide Attacks Certain in U.S., Mueller Warns,
New York Times, 20 May 2002, http://www.nytimes.com/2002/05/21/national/21TERR.html?todaysheadlines
- Security Gap: a Hard Look at the Soft
Spots in our Civilian Nuclear Reactor Security, staff summary
of responses by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to Correspondence
from Rep. Edward Markey, 25 March 2002, http://www.house.gov/markey/iss_nuclear.htm