Skip to main content

Nuclear Cyber Security and Its Discontents

The minority (that is, the Republicans) on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee released a report that shows a number of federal agencies, including the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, exercising lax cyber security. In some instances, the brew is rather weak – antivirus software has not been updated at some agencies, which probably has Symantec worried - but there’s some substantial stuff in it, too.

This sums up the report’s finding on the NRC:

Yet just about every aspect of that process [addressing cyber security weaknesses] appears to be broken at the NRC. Problems were identified but never scheduled to be fixed; fixes were scheduled but not completed; fixes were recorded as complete when they were not.

The first thing to note is that this has nothing whatever to do with cyber security at nuclear energy facilities. In some ways, this report confuses network security with what is a much broader topic. Government agency network security has been low hanging fruit when one seeks an issue to publicize, which doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be addressed.

Bill Gross, NEI senior project manager, engineering, who has done a lot of work on nuclear facility cyber security, wrote a blog post for us early last year outlining some of the steps the industry has taken to address the subject. Well worth a read for anyone interested in this issue. His conclusion:

No cyber security program will be 100% perfect.  These interim measures well position the plants to ensure that the public health and safety are maintained, and that the sites will reliably continue to make their significant contribution to the nation’s electrical supply.

---

We can’t really answer for the NRC and what it might need to do to digitally clean its house. We can say that this is a partisan report. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), the committee’s ranking member, keeps the pot at a simmer in presenting the report’s findings on his We site.

“Weaknesses in the federal government’s own cyber security have put at risk the electrical grid, our financial markets, our emergency response systems and our citizens’ personal information,” Dr. Coburn said.  “While politicians like to propose complex new regulations, massive new programs, and billions in new spending to improve cyber security, there are very basic – and critically important – precautions that could protect our infrastructure and our citizens’ private information that we simply aren’t doing.”

So, yes, partisan. I’m not sure the report addresses risks to infrastructure or financial markets – agencies overseeing them, perhaps, but that’s not the same thing. It seems to both want and not want regulation; it just depends on what’s being regulated. It’ll be interesting to see how or even if the NRC responds to this report.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

How Nanomaterials Can Make Nuclear Reactors Safer and More Efficient

The following is a guest post from Matt Wald, senior communications advisor at NEI. Follow Matt on Twitter at @MattLWald.

From the batteries in our cell phones to the clothes on our backs, "nanomaterials" that are designed molecule by molecule are working their way into our economy and our lives. Now there’s some promising work on new materials for nuclear reactors.

Reactors are a tough environment. The sub atomic particles that sustain the chain reaction, neutrons, are great for splitting additional uranium atoms, but not all of them hit a uranium atom; some of them end up in various metal components of the reactor. The metal is usually a crystalline structure, meaning it is as orderly as a ladder or a sheet of graph paper, but the neutrons rearrange the atoms, leaving some infinitesimal voids in the structure and some areas of extra density. The components literally grow, getting longer and thicker. The phenomenon is well understood and designers compensate for it with a …

Missing the Point about Pennsylvania’s Nuclear Plants

A group that includes oil and gas companies in Pennsylvania released a study on Monday that argues that twenty years ago, planners underestimated the value of nuclear plants in the electricity market. According to the group, that means the state should now let the plants close.

Huh?

The question confronting the state now isn’t what the companies that owned the reactors at the time of de-regulation got or didn’t get. It’s not a question of whether they were profitable in the '80s, '90s and '00s. It’s about now. Business works by looking at the present and making projections about the future.

Is losing the nuclear plants what’s best for the state going forward?

Pennsylvania needs clean air. It needs jobs. And it needs protection against over-reliance on a single fuel source.


What the reactors need is recognition of all the value they provide. The electricity market is depressed, and if electricity is treated as a simple commodity, with no regard for its benefit to clean air o…

Why Nuclear Plant Closures Are a Crisis for Small Town USA

Nuclear plants occupy an unusual spot in the towns where they operate: integral but so much in the background that they may seem almost invisible. But when they close, it can be like the earth shifting underfoot.

Lohud.com, the Gannett newspaper that covers the Lower Hudson Valley in New York, took a look around at the experience of towns where reactors have closed, because the Indian Point reactors in Buchanan are scheduled to be shut down under an agreement with Gov. Mario Cuomo.


From sea to shining sea, it was dismal. It wasn’t just the plant employees who were hurt. The losses of hundreds of jobs, tens of millions of dollars in payrolls and millions in property taxes depressed whole towns and surrounding areas. For example:

Vernon, Vermont, home to Vermont Yankee for more than 40 years, had to cut its municipal budget in half. The town closed its police department and let the county take over; the youth sports teams lost their volunteer coaches, and Vernon Elementary School lost th…