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Roundup on Pro-Nuclear Activities at Grand Gulf

Good morning to all of the readers of Nuclear Energy Overview, NEI's member-only newsletter. The following summary is especially for those of you who have come here looking for a recap of the activities in and around last week's NRC hearing on the draft environmental impact statement on the Grand Gulf Early Site Permit that took place on Tuesday, June 28.

For the first report on the events that took place in Jackson and Port Gibson, Mississippi, click here. Later that same day, North American Young Generation in Nuclear (NA-YGN) President, Lisa Shell added a number of other details she was getting from her members on the ground in Mississippi. Finally, NA-YGN's Michael Stuart provided his own first-person report on his activities.

Our thanks again to Michael Stuart and Kelly Taylor for staying in touch with us while they were on the ground in Mississippi, and helping us keep our readers informed as it all happened.

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L. Alan Smith said…
The Jackson Free Press article:
Kelly L. Taylor said…
I've been waiting for this article; much obliged that you shared it with us. Thank you, nuclearisgreen!
Michael Stuart said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Michael Stuart said…
In that article, Paul Gunter is quoted with the complaint that "only one patrolman [is] on duty" in all of Claiborne County every night.

While this is a minor point, this is just another example the kind of misinformation we have to deal with from these antis.

I can tell you for a fact that at least two were on duty at 2 AM on Wednesday, June 29, in Port Gibson. I saw them for myself as I was walking the streets and reading the historic markers.
L. Alan Smith said…
Pro nuclear letters to the editor published in Mississippi:
Paul said…

What's your point, anyways?

One, two patrolmen for an entire county night patrol around a nuclear power plant on the largest river of commerce in the US?

Security infrastructure is no "small point" particularly because as threat levels increase, site security is dependent on local law enforcement for backup according to a NEI document. Particularly when site defenses are only prepared to meet a ridiculously low DBT.

First, it's simply is not there for Grand Gulf. Second, when it's discovered that Entergy lobbied for this discriminatory Mississippi tax code in the first place it underscores why they dont deserve an operating license for unit 1, let alone a new unit.

As far as "this kind of misinformation", my source on the one patrolman for the entire county night patrol is 1) LEGAL TIMES (a law and lobbying DC trade journal, September 13, 2004, "High Noon For Environmental Justice," and; 2)for the record for the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board proceeding for SERI's Grand Gulf ESP is a declaration from Claiborne County Sheriff Frank Davis that states "Additional man power is needed to fully file the required needs of our emergency evacuation plan and provide additional services at Grand Gulf Nuclear Power Plant since the 911 disaster." A recent Port Gibson Reveille also reports that two of the county's fire stations had to be closed because they required at least two firemen on duty to justify staying open. That's my point, Michael.

BTW, Kelly---speaking of misinformation, where is any documentation or analysis of that wild statement you made on the Jackson shock jock's radio show that even if terrorists gain control of the Main Control Room all they could do is shut down the reactor?

That's the kind of misinformation that does a great disservice to obfuscating the real situation of what needs to be done and the real cost of security upgrades.

Paul, NIRS
Delbert Horn said…
Gosh, Paul, I'm not sure who to believe here on the number of patrolmen on duty in Claiborne County... On one hand, there's an anti-nuclear activist citing a ten-month-old DC legal journal to make a June 28th claim, "You’ve only got one patrolman on duty in the entire county every night."

On the other hand, an eyewitness says... "two were on duty at 2 AM on Wednesday, June 29, in Port Gibson. I saw them for myself as I was walking the streets and reading the historic markers."

Let's see... you have written documentation from a law journal, you've made scary-sounding quotes in newspapers and press releases, your claim is worded like an absolute truth, and the whole paragraph screams out DISCRIMINATION!!!, so I'll just do what you expect your average readers to do, and believe your exaggerated claims over the straight facts. Are you now saying that there were only two on duty in the entire county, and Mike just happened to see both of them on the same couple of streets in Port Gibson at 2AM?

Now, let's look at your remark regarding Kelly's "wild statement." I was on shift with Kelly several years at North Anna. She was an NRC-licensed reactor operator during that time, which means she spent many years before that as a non-licensed operator.

Non-licensed operators work out in the plant taking logs, manually operating equipment outside the control room, studying, testing, and obtaining expert qualifications on every piece of equipment in the plant.

She then spent over a year in reactor operator license class, learning reactor theory, thermodynamics, heat transfer, fluid flow, and integrated control systems operation. This process is certified with classroom tests all along the way, then later integrated with training on the control room simulator. First, basic simulator training integrates theory and hands-on equipment knowledge by teaching how the plant and the operating crew respond to normal operations.

After this point, the candidates are temporarily assigned to shifts in the real control room as trainees, operating the plant under the constant supervision of a licensed operator.

Next comes more simulator training, learning how to troubleshoot and respond to minor instrument and equipment failures, then reacting on the simulator to increasingly more complex and challenging abnormal event scenarios. Eventually, the candidates work up to simulator scenarios using emergency operating procedures during extremely unlikely "design basis accidents," such as small-break and large-break loss of coolant accidents, steamline breaks, loss of offsite power, loss of all AC power, etc.

Almost a hundred hours of simulator team training to this point have reinforced and integrated classroom theory with prior year of hands-on experience, developing and honing team skills under all sorts of normal, simulated abnormal, and simulated emergency events.

If the license candidates make it though the regular testing this far, they are then subjected to a two-part comprehensive written and simulator "audit" exam, which typically takes place over a two day period. This audit exam is just to demonstrate to station management that they are ready to sit for the real NRC license exam.

Imagine the expertise that a group of 10-15 license candidates obtains and refines during classroom study, simulator training, and constant testing, both individually and as an operating team over a 13-month period.

After passing the NRC license exam, the group of successful new reactor operator license holders are then split up and assigned as the 4th or 5th licensed reactor operator on a tightly-knit crew of about 15 people. These operating crews are comprised of non-licensed operators, licensed operators, and senior reactor operators. Two senior reactor operators are Unit Supervisors, one is the Shift supervisor, and a fourth coordinates operations work eveolutions with maintenance crews.

Senior reactor operators on a shift must first have at least 5 years on-shift experience as a reactor operator, before going through the entire license class again, this time as senior reactor operator candidates.

As you can imagine, some of these operating crews collectively have over 100 man-years of experience operating the plant. Each crew works and trains together as a team for so long, they know what each other is going to do before they do it.

Typically, there are 4 or 5 of these crews at each plant, depending on if they have 8-hour or 12-hour shift rotations. They are limited by law on how many hours they can work during a day and during a week, just as with airline pilots.

Oh, and once you finally get your reactor operator of senior reactor operator license, that's not the end of it, by any stretch of the imagination. The whole crew is in requalification training for one full week out of ten, learning about upcoming plant design changes, staying current on industry operating experience, and capping the training week off with a team simulator exam and an individual written exam.

As if that is not enough, there are annual requalification exams each licensed operator must pass, too.

So, Paul, that's what it means to be a licensed reactor operator. I've said all this because it's the reference point of experience for Kelly's control room comment. Now, Paul, how much do YOU know about the workings of the main control room at a nuclear power plant?

Do you believe in a computer override, like on the Fox show "24," where plants can be "melted down" remotely, while someone watches a green dot turn red on a computer screen somewhere. Do you think there is a "Meltdown" push-button on the main control board, underneath a cover that says "Break Glass in Case You Have Lost all Concept of Reality and Believe the Industry is Still the Same as It Was 25 Years Ago Before Three Mile Island."

Do you believe the large on-site security force with more firepower and training than the local police force snoozes all night, occasionally bumping the big "off" switch for all of the layered electronic security systems?

You really should talk more to those friends you made in the nuclear industry "way back when" during your numerous "simple/criminal trespasses onto the Seabrook construction site." You apparently have a lot of catching up to do, as evidenced by your propensity to cite out-of-date references in front of the media and professionals in the nuclear industry.

I think it's clear in both cases today, regarding the number of night patrol officers in Claiborne County and the inner workings of a power plant control room, and also in your previous mis-statement referring to the temporary holding location in Grand Gulf's containment as "its spent fuel pool," that you are, in fact, misinformed, and are, yourself, obfuscating the "real situation."

How in the world can you be an authority on "what needs to be done" when you don't understand the current state of the industry?
Paul Gunter said…

You forgot to mention the sheriff's declaration signed under threat of perjury to an ASLB that there are not enough local police to meet the threat level. Nothing changes in Claiborne County without changing the Mississippi's discriminatory tax law. Agree?

This is a long winded response to say nothing relevant supporting the veracity of Kelly's public statement that there are no operator manual actions that can melt a nuke down from the Main Control Room. You joining Kelly?

Nobody is asking for safeguards information that says "how to," just the analysis that says its cant be done.

Its not there, dude...cause its not true.

Paul, NIRS
Delbert Horn said…
There you go changing the points of the debate again. Your question to Kelly was "where is any documentation or analysis ...that even if terrorists gain control of the Main Control Room all they could do is shut down the reactor?" Now you're changing Kelly's statement to "...there are no operator manual actions that can melt a nuke down from the Main Control Room." Quite a big difference there ... compare a terrorist's nuclear plant operations knowledge to that of a licensed operator (see "irrelevant long winded response" on operator training above)

That's one of the biggest problems with the anti-nuclear crowd, they never want to compare apples to apples. Everything you have to say about nuclear is that it's "too dangerous" (compared to what?)... too deadly (compared to what?) ... too unsafe (compared to what?)...too expensive (compared to what?).

Terrorists were able to fly airliners into 1000ft skyscrapers because they went to flight school. A terrorist is not getting into licensed reactor operator training.

There would be plenty of advance warning and plenty of time to place the reactor in a safe condition in the event that terrorists attempt or actually succeed in getting access to a nuclear plant. It's not as easy as it was when you tresspased at Seabrook. Let's just say it takes a lot of plant knowledge to cause a meltdown... and it can't be accomplished in just a few minutes by turning just a few switches.

You asking for a detailed analysis explaining how it can't be done is an example of one of those "see, you can't show me, that means it's too dangerous" ploys that really has no bearing the safety and security of the nuclear industry.

I suppose you really wanted to see the classified version of the National Academy of Sciences nuclear fuel vulnerability report, too.

It's not enough for you to know that the industry is storing used fuel onsite in extremely hardy concrete and steel fuel storage casks. When the National Academy of Sciences actually confirmed what the industry has been saying all along, that dry cask storage is the safest and best of the currently available long-term fuel storage options, the antinuclear crowd dropped that issue and focused in instead on the fuel pools.

Nuclear will never be safe enough for you Paul, and you will always hold the industry to impossibly high standards of proof. There is not an industry professional out there that will tell you it is absolutely safe. Nothing is without risk.

As we have seen recently however, it is the mundane everyday things in life that wind up being the most dangerous and frequently the most deadly. No amount of additional security will make this world "safe."

We just have to pick our priorities and live our lives without being afraid to get out of bed in the morning. I can still sleep soundly at night knowing that my family and I are living less than 30 miles from one of the safest, most secure, best run, cleanest industrial facilities in the country. I think about the incredible amounts of air pollution that North Anna prevents every year that it operates, I think about all the lives that it saves. I know the used nuclear fuel is safely stored onsite, and I am confident the politics will one day allow it to be reprocesed, enabling it to safely generate even more clean power. I am optimistic about the next generations of nuclear plants reducing our dependence on foreign energy sources... natural gas in the near term, middle eastern oil in the longer term.

I realize that my 25 minute drive into Richmond every morning is actually the riskiest thing in my daily life, but I'm not going to join a special interest group and launch a campaign to take all the cars off the highway.
Paul Gunter said…

OK, both the old and the revised Design Basis Threat (DBT) provide for passive insider knowledge to support the attack.

The DBT does not limit that insider's knowledge to activities outside the Main Control Room.
The DBT does limits the role of the insider so that they can not perform the operator manual actions to destroy the core. He/she can instruct attackers once they gain access to MCR. As such, the DBT requires the attackers be denied access to MCR.

Contrary to what Kelly told unaware listeners in Mississippi during any Operational Safeguard Response Exercise, once the attackers gain access to MCR, you lose, they win.

That's the misinformation and disservice tp listeners that I am speaking of.

Given benefit of the doubt, perhaps she never experienced an OSRE. Wouldn't surprise me, prior to 9/11 they were only conducted on-site once every eight years to contain cost.

The "spent" fuel pools have always been an issue and we have not dropped any activity on oversight of dry cask systems. In fact with Private Fuel Storage at Goshutes Skull Valley, we have increased efforts. But we can take that up elsewhere topically. Apparently, you have not seen the U.S. Army Aberdeen Proving Grounds test of a TOW missile on a dry cask. Interesting and of concern because the US deployed thousands of TOWs to mujahadeen in Afghanistan and the infamous Iran/Contra deal.

Paul, NIRS
Delbert Horn said…
NIRS Website's Misinformation and Disservice to it's Followers

OK Paul, you've progressively taken this debate from "...where is documentation or analysis that all they could do is shut down the reactor?" to "...verify the veracity that there are no operator manual actions that can melt a nuke down from the Main Control Room," and finally to quoting DBTs that include "passive insider knowledge to support the attack... and do not limit that insider's knowledge to activities outside the Main Control Room... He/she can instruct attackers once they gain access to MCR."

Quite a tortuous path you've taken to clarify "the misinformation and disservice to listeners" that you are speaking of. But thanks for giving Kelly the benefit of the doubt on OSRE.

Now, since you brought it up, how about YOUR misinformation on the U.S. Army Aberdeen Proving Grounds "test" of a TOW "missile" on a shipping cask. This a shining example of antinuclear folklore that made it all the way to the House floor, the NIRS website, and even into a West Wing episode.

You are incorrect on many counts:
1. I have seen the video - I watched it again just this morning for some comic relief.
2. The "test" was not a "US Army test," it was conducted for a private company at the US Army Aberdeen Proving Grounds.
3. The "test" video is actually a marketing Infomercial arranged by a German shipping cask manufacturer to demonstrate the effectiveness of their concrete overpack.
4. No missile was "shot" at a cask... a metal projectile and a shaped charge, sized to simulate the armor-piercing warhead of the most powerful size of TOW anti-tank missile was attached diretly to the bare cask and detonated.
5. The pre-placed "warhead" put a 4-inch hole though a cast-iron cask wall.
6. A small (2ftX2ft square) section of the concrete overpack they were selling was then placed against the cask. Another simulated TOW missile warhead was then attached to the outside of the concrete overpack and detonated.
7. The "warhead" blew apart the small section of concrete, and then only partially penetrated the cask this time.
8. The cast-iron cask they used in the test is not licensed in the US as a shipping cask.
9. The concrete "overpack" did not have tensile reinforcing steel, as is commonly used in US-licensed storage casks and containment buldings.
10. The marketing demonstration actually proved the effectivness of a concrete overpack against a poorly-simulated missile attack.

The 4-1/2 minute marketing video was produced by a New York-based company called International Fuel Containers Ltd., the marketing arm of the German cask manufacturer.

The marketing demo did not result in any overpack sales that day, but instead was latched onto by the antinuclear crowd and turned into one of the most amusing and most incorrect pieces of antinuclear propaganda.

First, Senator Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., asked for the marketing video, and in February 2002 asked Nevada's congressional delegation to "study" it.

"I believe it represents what our worst fears are, especially in the wake of 9-11," Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., said.

Berkley used the tape to bolster her arguments that nuclear waste shipments could be vulnerable to terrorist attack and spent fuel would be better off remaining stored on-site at power plants across the country, instead of being shipped to Yucca Mountain, which she vehementaly opposes.

"We will distribute that tape as widely as possible and show it to as many Congress people as we can to demonstrate that, when the industry suggests transportation is perfectly safe, that is a lie."

Berkley wanted the video to be used immediately in the Nevada's anti-Yucca campaign, so consultants to Nevada's nuclear waste project office began shopping it to network television news shows.

Other Nevada lawmakers argued for a slower pace, while they learned more about the Aberdeen test. Absent any complaints after delegation members had the video for a month to study, Berkley provided gleefully copies to Las Vegas television stations. She also placed a strategicaly out-of-context edited version on her Web site in March 2002.

Enter the liberal media. In the April 3, 2002 West Wing episode, President Jeb Bartlet, Hollywood's 21st-century Democratic President we all wish was based on a real-life Democratic candidate, said to his Chief of Staff:
"We packed this stuff in 2 inches of stainless steel, 4 inches of lead. We've rammed it
with trains and dropped it from helicopters and it still isn't going to protect us from
the thing we haven't thought of. They took a cask out to Aberdeen Proving Ground and shot
a TOW missile clean through it. They showed me video."

Inspired again by Hollywood's nuclear misinformation, the antinuclear movment now takes up the charge, this time, to save us all from infomercials. In testimony before the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee on April 18, 2002, Joan Claybrook, then President of Public Citizen, perjured herself with the following statement:
"In a 1998 demonstration at Aberdeen Proving Ground, a TOW anti-tank missile shot at a Castor V-21 storage cask blew a hole through the wall of the cask."

Both of your NIRS website's "Fact Sheets" on the video leave out the other half of the story - that the test was rigged, that it was not actually a missile firing. One NIRS "Fact Sheet" has the blatently false heading: "Armor Piercing Missile Perforates High-Level Radioactive Waste Storage/Transport Cask In U.S. Army Aberdeen Proving Grounds Test." That's an outright lie, Paul, on your organization's website.

Your website is great at scaring people with large numbers, like "Iran may have obtained 1,750 or more TOW missiles according to the Military Analysis Network."

What is does not mention is that the OW in TOW stands for Optically-tracked, Wire command-link guided.
This means that even a chain-link fence is enough to sever the guide wire. Any outer barrier of protection around the cask will prematurely detonate the warhead, preventing penetration of the cask, as successfully demonstrated in the Aberdeen video.

In the area of "how far can we stretch the truth until it works for us?," your website ponders "The question however remains, what if attackers came with more than one missile to destroy the flak jacket, then penetrate the cask with a second or third round?"

Well Paul, even with an unobstructed line-of site shot, from a standoff distance, the shooter must be able to hit the cylindrical cask dead center, or the missile will glance off. Remember, they're "Optically-tracked," which is far from "laser-guided."

Say he's extremely lucky, and hits the cask dead center... now you have to be even more lucky and shoot a "second or third shot" through the hole in the overpack to actually penetrate the cask.

You mention that it's "Interesting and of concern because the US deployed thousands of TOWs to mujahadeen." I find it interesting, but not of concern, to imagine how many of those thousands of missiles would be used in "target practice" to obtain the needed accuracy, then how many more would be actually needed under stress to carry out this NIRS doomsday attack scenario.

Perhaps you should suggest this type of target practice to Al-Quaeda as US-led effort to drasticaly reduce the number of foreign TOWs in circulation. (Keep practicing boys, Senator Berkley's video shows the US Army could actually do it!) I'm sure our troops in Iraq would appreciate you doing something constructive to help them out.

Possible? Theoretically, Yes. Probable? No, Not very likely.
That's a whole lot of misinformation and disservice on Congressional, "Presidential,", "Public Citizen" and "Nuclear Information Resource" levels.

Now, are you up to the challenge of getting your fact sheet's title, "Armor Piercing Missile
Perforates High-Level Radioactive Waste Storage/Transport Cask" corrected? It's not quite perjury, as with the Public Citizen President, but it is a blatant (and possibly intentional?) misstatement.

Surely, as Director of the Reactor Watchdog Project for NIRS, you would want to see this obvious public misstatement corrected. If not, you certainly would be doing your money-contributing loyal followers a great disservice by allowing your organization to knowingly misrepresent the facts.
Paul Gunter said…
Actually Delbert, I was trying to keep our debate on track with regard to the statement that "even if terrorists entered the Grand Gulf control room all they could do is shut the reactor down."

Again,that statement is simply not true. The DBT requires denying attackers access to control room and through a set of operator manual actions initiate an irreversible core melt.

Even if there is no passive insider you neglect the fact that the same knowledge could come from some squeaky clean sympathetic graduate from one of our remaining nuclear engineering schools or a sympathetic student in an engineering school in Pakistan or operator in a foreign reactor advising the same attackers.

Neither you nor Kelly have produced anything to the contrary
justifying Kelly's careless statement of misinformation.

Since Grand Gulf doesn't even have an ISFSI, I am not going to pursue this much further, but thanks for your tome. I don't doubt you can cut and paste it somewhere on the NEI Notes under a more appropriate header at some later date. I'll look for it and comment. For now inn reply, here's what we have already posted for anyone else interested in the TOW missile test:

Thanks and NO NUKES,
Paul, NIRS
Kelly L. Taylor said…
Jiminy Cricket! Delbert didn't tell me y'all were having this much fun here. Bill did, though - thank you much, Bill! I won't steal his thunder, since I expect we'll hear from him soon, but I will state it was his assertion that has Paul so upset. Bill said it, and I agree with it. I will make these few comments (since there is so little I can add with Delbert so ably covering the bases).

Paul, you want documentation of what you call my irresponsible statements, and you know full well I can't provide them to you. For the rest of our readers, I will point out that doesn't mean they do not exist. I am not an expert in security, and I do not have access to security documents unless they apply to my specific job. If I did have access to such documents, I would also have the training and good sense to know I couldn't go about posting their contents on some public website such as this one. This, too, is part of the industry regulations - security documents are locked up and shared only on a need-to-know basis.

The regulations require a utility to assume 'what if something really awful happens' and design structures, staffing and procedures accordingly. There is no requirement that playing 'what if' be based in reality - the 'what if' scenarios are well beyond what could be reasonably expected to occur in real life. Paul, just because someone can write down a 'what if' doesn't mean it's likely, or believable, or real. When operators are trained, there is no rule on the set number of simultaneous failures they may get to deal with at one time. This is another net in public safety - that operators must think on their feet and respond to whatever happens, not just what the rules of engagement guess might happen. So, they're trained even beyond the 'what if' the regulators and the utilities guess at.

I don't want to dwell on this, but there are some events in operator training and emergency response that play what if you can't use the control room to keep the reactor safe - how do you keep the reactor cool without it? That proves amazingly helpful in this scenario that Paul wishes to scare people with. Those who know the capabilities of the plant because they live in it and study it 24 hours a day and train to it more than a month per year are creative enough to remove the 'control' from the control room and then revert to their training. Suddenly all the terrorists have is just a room. And all they can do is be annoying. And this is true, even if the 'what if' scenario rules declare that the utility must assume everybody hides in a closet while the bad guys run amok.

Reality probably doesn't work that way. I'm not worried, and I work there! Are you closer than that?
Bill Casino said…
Thank you Kelley for that wonderful lead in. I have finally decided to jump into the frey and toss in my two cents. Paul, I hear you buddy! You are seeking affirmation that your worst fears cannot come true and you are waiting for someone to reassure you with something concrete that it simply cannot happen. I will do my best to help you out. First of all, a few clarifications are in order. It was me, Bill Casino, not Kelly Taylor who made the statement that “the worst thing a terrorist group could do from the control room is shut the reactor down”. I made this statement on the Paul Gallo radio talk show, and she backed me up on it, because we both know it is entirely true. Second of all, I would like to address your comments about providing documentation to back up the statement. I do not know if any commercial plant would be willing to release sensitive documents with specifics concerning emergency procedures and accident analysis details, but there may be some general information in the safety analysis reports for each individual plant on the NRC’s ADAMS listings – I leave it up to you to do the research though. I will do my best to give you a generic description of a worst case scenario based upon MY knowledge of nuclear plants and accident scenario’s. Thirdly, as though Kelly’s credentials are not adequate enough to convince you that we know what we are talking about, I would like to introduce you to me, Bill Casino.

I was a nuclear plant operator for six years in the US Navy. I was a training instructor for the testing and qualification of nuclear plant operators for two and a half years. I was a drill team member for the ANNUAL reactor safeguards examination drills that my twin reactor plant equipped guided missile cruiser had to undergo in order to certify that we were competent enough to keep it safe and operational during WARTIME situations. The emergency drills and training that I received and gave involved scenarios such as:
1. Direct missile strike in the engine room or reactor compartment.
2. Direct torpedo strike in the engine room or reactor compartment.
3. Attempted hostile takeover of the ship by enemy forces.
4. Catastrophic failure of the integrity of the ship (hull fracture, ice burg, ship top sizes, etc...)
5. Extended armor piercing weaponry assault on reactor plant components.
6. Loss of all electrical power.
And other such scenarios – I hope you accept that my knowledge of off normal and unusual plant events qualifies me to discuss this subject with accuracy and thoroughness.

Now to address you chief concern – could a group of talented, capable, and well resourced terrorists melt down a nuclear reactor by capturing the control room? The answer is unequivocally “NO”. More appropriately though, could a group of talented, capable, and well resourced terrorists melt down a nuclear reactor by gaining complete control of the entire site? The answer is very conditionally “yes”. The likely hood is of course infinitesimally small and the conditions needed are extremely difficult to achieve, though, and that’s the part I want to take you to school on. I apologize for the length of this post, but it is necessary to address Paul’s concern.

In order to melt down a reactor, all you need to do is put the core in a situation where it is generating heat, and remove all of the mechanisms that are available to remove that heat. Sounds simple to a layperson, doesn’t it Paul? But fortunately, it is not simple at all.

Time equals 0: the assault begins

First of all, it is not possible to keep the reactor operating and remove the cooling capabilities. Reactors are designed to shut down if you sneeze at them wrong! So in our worst case scenario, the bad guys completely overwhelm the dozens of machine gun toting guards, defeat all of the physical and electronic security systems that are in place, and neutralize the hundreds of plant operations personnel working on site without disrupting the plant operations and without getting noticed by anyone outside of the plant. Let’s assume they can accomplish this in about thirty minutes or so.

Time equals 30 minutes: the sabotage begins

So they stroll into the control room – what can they do? They must do what I said before - put the core in a situation where it is generating heat, and remove all of the mechanisms that are available to remove that heat. What are their options? Follow the Three Mile Island (TMI) model. TMI lost its primary heat removal capacity by losing feed water to the steam generators and boiling them dry. So the bad guys trip off the feed system (which can be done from the control room). The generators boil down and the automatic safety systems shut down the reactor! This shut down feature CANNOT BE OVERRIDDEN. When feed water goes away, when steam generator levels drop, the rods go flying in – end of story! The same situation applies for a boiling water reactor. The reactor will NOT remain critical under ANY circumstances! But we all know that that devilish Decay Heat still exists, and thats what our bad guys plan to use in order to accomplish their goal. Let’s assume this scenario will play out in about 15 minutes or so from start to finish.

Time equals 45 minutes: the reactors’ systems respond

They are off to a good start, right Paul? Well actually not. Because the primary cooling system is designed with several redundant emergency cooling systems which will take over when the normal heat removal mechanism fails.

In order for the group to achieve success, they would have to manually defeat and or override all of these installed safety systems. This IS possible, but it involves about an hour of effort put forth by at least two people who must know how to do it. Each plant has at least two independent emergency fill and cooling systems. In order to defeat these systems, one of three things must happen. They must be [1] de-energized, [2] manually turned off, or [3] manually isolated from interacting with the primary coolant system. These operations CANNOT be performed from the control room.

[1] The emergency power supply system is independent of the primary supply system. Neither the system nor its controls are located in the control room. The group would have to go to BOTH emergency generator rooms and defeat the systems by disengaging or destroying them.

[2] The emergency system controllers are set up with interlocks that prevent them from being turned off during accident situations. The controllers are located near the pumps and equipment and must be overridden locally - Neither the pumps nor their controls are located in the control room.

[3] The supply line valves could be closed in order to isolate the systems from interacting with the coolant system, but they are locked in the open position. The valves are located in the mechanical equipment rooms and are MANUALLY operated. The locks would have to be overridden, and then the valves closed. There is no way to close the valves from the control room.

Time equals 1 hour and 45 minutes: the systems are defeated

Congratulations to our hearty bad guys, they have successfully stopped the emergency systems from protecting the plant, right Paul? Well not really. You see, the plants cooling system has the ability to store a great amount of energy even if there exists no way to remove that energy. The water and materials will absorb the heat and delay any catastrophic failures from happening for many hours. How can our anti-hero’s stop this from happening? The only way to stop the water from absorbing heat is to remove it from the system – or they must cause a major breech in the primary cooling system which will allow the water to escape from the core cavity. They must achieve this goal anyway, if their intention is to release radioactive material into the environment.

The system contains drain valves and piping, but they are all intentionally designed very small so that they cannot be used to cause a loss of coolant/loss of pressure accident. They must be manually operated and cannot be opened from the control room. This method alone would take many days in order to be successful.

The system also has relief system piping which is designed to vent the water and steam out of the cooling system, but they only open when the pressure rises to high. They cannot be manually opened or opened remotely from the control room. Remember, during the TMI accident, the relief valve opened due to over pressure and got STUCK, that is how they experienced their loss of pressure/loss of cooling accident.

So they must physically breech the system. Let’s say they have missiles and hand grenades and such. So they use their explosive devices to do what? All of the reactors coolant system piping and valves are locked up in a 4 foot thick concrete and steel building commonly called the containment building. So they must override the lock on the access door and open it, which by the nature of the door design takes at least 20 minutes to do. Or they get violent and blow the door open. The door weighs about 40 tons and will probably take a half hour to blast through.

Time equals 2 hours and 15 minutes: they gain access to their last obstacle

Now that they have gained access to the primary coolant boundary, all they have to do is launch some explosive devices into the vessel or some of its piping, or perhaps a steam generator and they get the breech that they have been hoping for, right Paul? Well, even if they finally succeed at breeching the cooling system, they still have not created a circumstance which threatens anyone outside of the plant yet. Once the breech has been achieved, they have steam escaping and pressure dropping. After about an hour or so (depending on the size of the breech), the fuel will become uncovered and begin to heat up beyond its design temperature. Of course, in the meantime, they are not worried about being discovered because they are inside a building they are now filling with steam.

Time equals 3 hours and 15 minutes: fuel damage occurs

After about another two hours of being uncovered and un-cooled, the clad will melt open and the fission product gasses will escape. The fuel will begin to migrate to the bottom of the pressure vessel where it will collect. After enough fuel collects at the bottom, if any water remains to thermalize neutrons, the system may go critical and generate more heat, but when all of the water has evaporated away, the neutrons will stop being thermalized and the reaction WILL STOP (sorry, no China syndrome in the real world!). Radioactive material will collect in the form of gasses in the containment building and, after they build up enough to fill the volume in the containment dome, they will start to flow through the opening in the containment building. At this point, the bad guys have done about as much as they possibly can. The only thing that would ensure their success is if they could get the radioactive gasses out of the containment building and into the atmosphere where they stand a chance at blowing around until they reach some people. After all, Paul, isn’t that their primary goal – to expose population centers to radioactive materials?

Time equals 5 hours and 15 minutes: fission product gasses escape

As you can see from this hypothetical exercise, the circumstances needed in order to succeed at this crazy scheme are impossible to achieve. This scenario assumes time frames which are unrealistically optimistic. It also assumes that the knowledge and skill of the perpetrators is unrealistically high, the capability of the plant personnel and technological security systems is unrealistically poor, and the stealth capability of the criminals is just plain old unrealistic. There are dozens of reasons which can be deduced from this analysis alone which should put your concerns to rest. This scenario is IMPOSSIBLE!

And even if it were, the radioactive release would be minimal (sorry, no Chernobyl’s in the Western world), and could be VERY quickly and easily stopped and contained. And of course the bad guys would all die from exposure to the steam they released from the cooling systems. But they are probably prepared to die a slow and painful death for their cause, right Paul? I hope that my efforts will help you gain som inner peace about nuclear plants and terrorists.

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There's an invisible force powering and propelling our way of life.
It's all around us. You can't feel it. Smell it. Or taste it.
But it's there all the same. And if you look close enough, you can see all the amazing and wondrous things it does.
It not only powers our cities and towns.
And all the high-tech things we love.
It gives us the power to invent.
To explore.
To discover.
To create advanced technologies.
This invisible force creates jobs out of thin air.
It adds billions to our economy.
It's on even when we're not.
And stays on no matter what Mother Nature throws at it.
This invisible force takes us to the outer reaches of outer space.
And to the very depths of our oceans.
It brings us together. And it makes us better.
And most importantly, it has the power to do all this in our lifetime while barely leaving a trace.
Some people might say it's kind of unbelievable.
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