Monday, June 13, 2005

NEI Executive Comments on Time's Nuclear Security Report

NEI has released a statement from our Chief Nuclear Officer, Marv Fertel, commenting on Time's feature on nuclear plant security (subscription required) that ran in its latest issue:

"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 (page 4) 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 (page 6).

"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 (page 3): '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."
For a broad overview of security issues in the nuclear energy industry, click here. And for our original post on Saturday that first referred to the Time report, click here.

UPDATE: Links to supporting documents were added at 9:25 p.m. U.S. EDT

TUESDAY MORNING UPDATE: Here's some more data concerning the comparison of spending on aviation security and nuclear plant security that was forwarded to us by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee staff. Again, since 9-11, the nuclear industry has spent $1.2 billion on a wide variety of security improvements at all 64 reactor sites around the country. By comparison, the aviation industry has spent $20 billion to cover security at more than 18,000 airports nationwide, including 540 commercial service airports and more than 7,800 commercial planes. To see the complete fact sheet from the committee, click here.

3 comments:

Matthew66 said...

I live in Manhattan, across the Hudson River from numerous chemical plants in New Jersey. I am not at all confident that those plants could withstand a terrorist attack, and wonder whether a mortar attack could rupture the storage tanks sending a plume of toxic fumes over Newark, Paramus, New York, Hoboken and/or Jersey City (depending on which way the wind is blowing). At least we'll have the emergency plans developed for Indian Point to assist in managing the crisis. I have no concerns about Indian Point, just up the river.

Anonymous said...

Pretty safe to say the magazine knew what conclusions it was going to present before they even decided to cover the story. "Nuclear power plants are safe" doesn't sell magazines.

Anonymous said...

NEI makes some interesting and some obviously valid points. However, there are a number a slanted and overtly biased positions that are floated out there as fact also.

The fact that no U.S. nuclear facility has ever been seriously attacked, does not justify the position that they are "safely secured."

Supporting legislation is not exactly proactive and waiting for congress to act before doing "the right thing" is not 'acting' in the nation's best interest nor is it fully responsible.

"Criticizing the size of the design basis threat imposed by the NRC" is NOT ("NOT") fallacious and misleading as NEI suggest, especially when the nuclear industry must sholder the burden of public perception (which it has fallen sadly short of for most of the past 50 years) and recognize the politically volitile and physically devastating potential of these materials (both initially and for many years beyond the event). [Note: the hot button reference in this paragraph of the NEI comments, the statement concerning "the nuclear energy industry has taken the lead . . ." does not contain the specifics suggested by the NEI comment. It does however present another opportunity for NEI to redistribute its own press on how secure Nuclear plants are.]

While NEI's likening of TIME's comparison to aviation security may not quite be "apples-to-oranges" there is certainly no direct correlation as the TIME article suggest.

In the "big gap" characterization paragraph, NEI missed it. If one actually reads the TIME article, in the very paragraph being cited by NEI, TIME does recognize that "DOE sites are more sensitive than private ones . . ." and for the very reason that NEI quotes. The article then goes on to say, ". . . a terrorist strike on either could be devastating." {foul on NEI for the inaccurate hit}

The NEI's statement on the 'incredible' nature of Lyman's scenario certainly has some merit. However, as POGO, Congressman Markey and others know very well, it behooves those responsible for nuclear plant and material security to at least honestly and fully consider the 'worst case scenario' what ever that may be. Then, only where warranted, reflect justififiable mitigation by established and proven security measures that legitimately address or eliminate the potential threat. It is irresponsible to discount out of hand what may be perceived as too costly to handle.

The NEI has some good points, but it needs to be accurate and truthful not just lash out at TIME. Just as with movie stars, one should not start believing or relying on their own press. It is dangerous.