Since the beginning of the week, we've been busy following the developing story coming out of Peach Bottom Nuclear Power Plant in Pennsylvania, where a hidden camera video report by New York's WCBS-TV discovered a group of plant security personnel sleeping in the facility's ready room when they should have been wide awake and ready for action.
Since word of the story first leaked out, Exelon, the owner of Peach Bottom, terminated Wackenhut's contract to manage the security force at the plant, as well as banished the officers in the video from getting back into the plant.
In the meantime, we've got a bone to pick with WCBS-TV about one of the wilder claims contained in the report.
“Experts tell CBS 2 HD radiation from a nuclear fire that starts at Peach Bottom would spread and could kill thousands of people as far away as Washington D.C. and New York City. It could leave 188 square miles uninhabitable.”Then, in the second report ...
“Experts tell CBS 2 News that radiation from a nuclear fire at Peach Bottom would spread and could kill tens of thousands of people as far away as Washington D.C. and New York City.”That's just not right. It certainly didn't help that the report refused to identify the "experts" that the station was relying on for that conclusion.
So I put in a call to Ralph Andersen, our chief health physicist, to get his take on things. Here's what he told me:
Based on any credible scenario at a nuclear power plant, there would be no impact on public health or safety in New York or Washington, D.C. Without attribution to the basis of these claims, this is the worst kind of fear mongering.To back up his claims, Ralph pointed me to the following report that's available in our Resource Library that was conducted by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI): Risk Characterization of the Potential Consequences of an Armed Terrorist Ground Attack on a U.S. Nuclear Power Plant (PDF).
For those of you not familiar with EPRI, it was founded in 1973 as a non-profit energy research consortium. Its mission is to provide science and technology-based solutions to global energy customers through scientific research, technology development, and product implementation.
In any case, if you read the EPRI report ...
There is in fact a relatively low likelihood that terrorist threats at a nuclear plant will propagate to severe consequences. The unique physical security, extra strength of the reactor and containment design, and detailed emergency response plans for the public lead to a significant likelihood that terrorists would fail to cause a radioactive release or severe public health effects – even if they were successful at overwhelming the site…Further ...
Even if a (reactor) core damage accident occurs from terrorist attack, the consequences to the public are not likely to be severe. This is attributable to three factors:Which leads me to ask: Who are these experts that WCBS-TV and reporter Scott Weinberger (pictured at left) is relying on, and why won't they put them on camera or even name them?
- Even for extreme types of scenarios, the containment structure that surrounds the reactor is able to capture a significant fraction of the radioactive release before it escapes to the environment;
- Damage to the reactor core tends to occur over several hours or a longer period, thus allowing time for emergency response measures to be taken; and
- Longer-term recovery from the accident is likely.
As always, for a look at safety and security at American nuclear power plants -- where the industry has invested more than $3 billion in manpower and capital improvements since 2001 -- click here.