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Nuclear Security and Layered Defense

There's a lot of traffic flying around about the video we're seeing coming out of WCBS-TV in New York of guards at the Peach Bottom Nuclear Power Plant taking a nap in the plant's ready room.

Some other things to note: Exelon, the owner of Peach Bottom, has terminated the Wackenhut contract at the plant, and the guards seen sleeping in the video have been denied access to the plant.

That being said, it's important to note that nuclear power plants have layered defenses. In other words, there's a lot more to the security force than just those guards in the ready room, something that Freakanomics author Stephen J. Dubner found out when he visited Three Mile Island recently:
That said, the security I saw at Three Mile Island was so tight, complex, and thorough that I think it would take a lot more than one sleeping guard to create a vulnerability. They wouldn’t let me photograph anything having to do with their security — the numberless armed guards, physical barriers, electronic monitors, etc. — but I thought they had it backwards: if a potential attacker could see how impenetrable the plant is (at least from a ground attack; an air attack is another matter), he would probably take his business elsewhere in a hurry.
In 2002, EPRI conducted a study on nuclear power plants and air attack at the request of NEI. Click here for the blog post on that issue. For more on the specifics of plant security, click here.


Anonymous said…
In response to

if a potential attacker could see how impenetrable the plant is (at least from a ground attack; an air attack is another matter), he would probably take his business elsewhere in a hurry.

It's good from a plant security reason for a potential adversary to underestimate, reducing the chance of success.

It's also actually good for national security purposes for the attackers to make an attack on a nuclear power plant. They WILL fail, rather than succeeding elsewhere where the vulnerabilities are greater.

This is employed in many areas. I believe that much of the talk about border and port security is talk, making "evil doers" lower their guard, increasing the odds of interception. Where I don't believe this is true is at chemical plants - they are dang vulnerable.

I think a foiled attack at a nuclear power plant also does little to harm the industry. Yes, the rabid anti folks will crow, but most of the public will look at the events and have a "yawn, yeah keep talking, in 40 years where is the harm from nuclear."

-Matthew B.

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