Thursday, August 15, 2013

A Fresh Perspective on Nuclear Plant Security

Nuclear plants are widely acknowledged to be the best-defended facilities among the nation’s critical infrastructure. Critical, independent security experts share the industry’s belief that nuclear power plants are very well-defended, particularly in comparison to other elements of the nation’s industrial infrastructure. These include assessments from the the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The robustness of our industry's security isn't the easiest topic to address in great detail; appropriately, key security features for our sites are Safeguards Information. Still, this NEI video treatment of site security does offer some much-needed perspective relative to reports like today's from Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Project (NPPP).

There's a common/recurring flaw in many such evaluations of nuclear plant security: they ever fail to explain how attackers upon a nuclear power plant will be able to dislodge highly irradiated fuel, stored in tons-weighing 18-foot tall assemblies in reactors, pools, or in megaton dry casks, and maneuver them past layers of elaborate security measures.  

It's also important to remember that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission holds nuclear power plants to the highest security standards of any American industry, and industry exceeds those standards.

Approximately 9,000 extremely well-armed and highly trained security officers defend the nation’s 62 nuclear power plant sites. This is an increase of approximately 60 percent in the size of nuclear plant security forces since 9/11. These forces, a large percentage from military and law enforcement backgrounds, are drilled and tested regularly to ensure their readiness. Security officers receive hundreds of hours of training before they are deployed.

“Force on force” exercises that use dedicated teams of mock adversaries who specialize in attack strategies and tactics are part of the comprehensive oversight of industry security programs. Each plant site conducts quarterly and annual drills for each security team and undergoes an NRC-evaluated “force on force” exercise once every three years. Ongoing integrated response with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies ensures robust and extensive site protection plans. Based on its regular interactions with federal intelligence and law enforcement authorities, the NRC establishes the threat against which the industry must be protected and sets stringent standards that security forces must meet.

"U.S. nuclear plants were safe and secure before Sept. 11, 2001," Dave Kline, NEI's Director of Security, told me this morning. "They are even safer and more secure today, on the strength of more than $2 billion in additional security investment encompassing substantial physical changes and enhancements at plant sites; the hiring of thousands of additional, highly trained security officers; procurement of more sophisticated detection and access systems; and closer coordination with local, state and federal law enforcement, intelligence experts, and the military."

Some key considerations to keep in mind as you weigh allegations of lax security lobbed by academics versus the time-tested, ongoing assessments of this nation's top-ranking security professionals:

  • Every commercial nuclear reactor in the country has conducted an aircraft impact assessment. 
  • Industry's Design Basis Threat is reviewed periodically, and threat information is considered for DBT revision. DBT is Safeguards information, and as such can't have its attributes characterized.
  •  Frequent Beyond Design Basis Threat drills are conducted, confirming margin in the protective strategies. 
  • Contingency planning is in place for loss of large areas of a plant.  
Finally, a report like the NPPP's today also fails to acknowledge that the very type of terrorist attack alleged as a vulnerability necessarily represents an enemy of the state incursion within our country. It isn't the obligation of any electric utility to defend against that; that's a job for the highest levels of federal national security.   

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I work within the nuclear industry and have seen many security enhancements over the years. In my opinion they are very safe from attack and are the safest place to work.

Atomikrabbit said...

Note to NEI - "megaton" is never a good adjective to use in a description of a nuclear power facility, even for dry casks. What was wrong with "multi-ton"?

Secondly, the fuel assemblies are about 12 feet in length at PWRs.

Most importantly, what are you doing to get this rebuttal as widely disseminated in the mass media as the NPPP did?