‘We have bullet-resistant observation towers. The towers give us 360-degree visual and video capabilities.’
– Jim Steets, Entergy Nuclear Northeast
The Record Review
Can the Indian Point nuclear power plant, just 17 miles away from Bedford, withstand a terrorist attack? The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is asking the public that question by inviting comments that could eventually change security regulations at the nation’s 103 nuclear power facilities.
Nuclear power plants were required to upgrade security after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. By 2003 some upgrades were in place, but for many nuclear watchdog groups the upgrades were minimal and a new round of petitions to the NRC requested a stronger security force at the plants.
NRC commissioner Greg Jaczko said last week at a Nuclear Policy Research Institute conference in Virginia, attended by The Record-Review, that the public has 75 days to comment on nuclear power plant security.
“The industry will know about the updates when the ruling is finalized, which will be in about six to nine months, or even a year,” said Dr. Jaczko.
But exact details on plant security can’t be shared with the public because the information is deemed “safeguarded.”
“People can comment on what they think should be included,” said Dr. Jaczko.
“They can comment on broad general descriptions like protection against bombs, paramilitary groups, or types of vehicles and things of that nature.”
The NRC’s proposed rule says that “the lack of information on the security is to guard against potential adversaries that could exploit the information.”
So how can the public fully comment on any security upgrades? Dr. Jaczko said, “It’s one of the difficult challenges regarding a rule-making like this.”
Enhanced security upgrades include protection against radiological sabotage such as theft of special nuclear material, violent external assault, and attack by stealth and from multiple entry points to the plants.
Language in the proposed amendment further suggests that nuclear power plants be able to defend against “dedicated individuals willing to kill or be killed, a range of weapons to include hand-held automatic weapons, and the ability to defend against internal threats.”
Also suggested is more protection by increased guard patrols, additional physical barriers, improved coordination with law enforcement and the military, revised security plans, more security officer training, and contingency response plans.
Not being considered by the NRC is safeguarding airspace, a concern for many area residents, since the jets that bombarded the World Trade Center on 9/11 flew directly over the plants at Indian Point.
“It’s not within our authority,” said Dr. Jaczko. “The no-fly zones are under the Department of Energy and the Federal Aviation Agency.”
Neil Sheehan, the NRC spokesman for Region 1, covering Indian Point, said a no-fly zone would have to be many miles wide to have any real impact.
“If a no-fly zone is five miles in diameter, a plane going 500 miles an hour will cross that no-fly zone very rapidly. If the zone were 10 miles in diameter, the plane would cross it in a matter of seconds. For a no-fly zone to be meaningful you really have to make it quite large.”
If larger no-fly zones were in place on the East Coast, where numerous nuclear power plants and chemical facilities densely dot the map, air traffic would be slowed to a crawl and eventually stopped altogether, said Mr. Sheehan.
“A much more practical approach would be to deal with these problems at the airports with better screening of passengers, stronger cockpit doors,” he said. “That’s the best way to ensure that planes don’t fall into the wrong hands.”
Mr. Sheehan added that the North American Aerospace Defense Command is also responsible for monitoring airspace over the United States.
One of the groups petitioning to change the current security rule is the Committee to Bridge the Gap, a Los Angeles-based nuclear watchdog organization. Dan Hirsch, president of the group, said that when all is said and done, the new rule will not require the industry to do anything beyond what was done a few years ago.
“It’s a very misleading document,” said Mr. Hirsch about the current proposed rule. “It will codify the status quo.”
Mr. Hirsch, who was also at the Nuclear Policy Research Institute conference, said the new energy bill directed the NRC to revise security rules known as the “design basis threat” and to take into account attacks of the magnitude of 9/11, attacks by air, and attacks by large groups. Implied but not spelled out in the energy bill was protection for plants from as much as 19 individual attackers, the same number that attacked on 9/11.
“We have been pushing for [guarding against] 19-plus attackers and attack by air,” said Mr. Hirsch. “Those are not in the proposed rule. The NRC has declined so far to do any of that. The proposal is to make no improvements.”
The Committee to Close the Gap also suggested that plants construct shields against air attack. These shields are sometimes referred to as “beamhenge,” which is a line of steel beams set vertically in deep concrete and placed around a plant, decreasing its vulnerability to an air attack from a fully loaded jumbo jet similar to what occurred on 9/11.
“There are people who feel very strongly about beamhenges,” said Mr. Sheehan. “But the commission has not agreed with that philosophy.”
Surrounding the Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station in southeastern Pennsylvania are 990 11-ton concrete blocks and $200-a-foot fencing topped with razor wire. Ten new guard towers – some six stories high – give armed guards broad vistas of possible approaches to the plant.
Jim Steets, spokesperson for Entergy Nuclear Northeast, the owners of Indian Point plants one and two, said Indian Point has upgraded security to meet the current NRC requirements.
“We have bullet-resistant observation towers,” he said. “The towers give us 360-degree visual and video capabilities. There’s a completely new 10-foot-high fence with concertina wire, and we now have vehicle barriers at the base of the outer perimeter of the property, enhanced perimeter barriers, personnel barriers.”
A new permanent group of guards hired by Entergy provide 24-hour surveillance of the plants, said Mr. Steets.
“They are armed with new weapons, semiautomatic weapons,” he said. “Drills have included scenarios with an insider person who might work with the attackers, someone who has access, someone with a badge. We’ve also had drills for water-based attacks.”
Mr. Steets said that all drills are determined by the NRC, which is advised by federal intelligence agencies.
Although local politicians have reviewed the security improvements at Indian Point, they are still bringing the NRC to task.
Congressman Sue Kelly (R-19) said in an e-mailed statement, “The bottom line is the NRC must always exercise utmost scrutiny in its evaluation of a plant’s defenses. These security evaluations need to be based on the reality of any possible terrorist threat we face. Anything less is unacceptable.”
Mrs. Kelly is also asking the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to re-examine emergency preparedness plans for the areas surrounding the Indian Point nuclear power plants.
Last year, Congressman Eliot Engel and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton requested a U.S. Coast Guard review citing vulnerabilities of nuclear power plants. The report has yet to be released. Since 9/11, the NRC, FEMA, and the U.S. Coast Guard have testified before many congressional hearings on protecting the country against terrorist attacks of nuclear power plants.
United States Congressman Ed Markey, a Democrat representing the 7th District of Massachusetts, was also a presenter at the conference in Virginia. He said there is no follow-up for the various congressional hearings.
“Congress is a stimulus-response institution, and there’s nothing more stimulating than a near-term interest of a Republican congressman,” said Mr. Markey. “Nothing will happen, there won’t be any significant oversight, and no significant hearings in Congress at all. The Bush administration does not want to deal with the reality of the al Qaeda documents found about targeting nuclear power plants, where Indian Point is, what the safety issues are – it would run totally contrary to the agenda of the Bush administration, who are subsidizing a new generation of nuclear power.”
NRC seeks public comment on revisions to security requirements
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is seeking public comment on a proposed rule that would amend its regulations governing the requirements pertaining to the design basis threat (DBT).
Comments must be received within 75 days of publication in the Federal Register to guarantee consideration by the NRC. Comments submitted later than this date may be considered if practical.
They can be mailed to: Secretary, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Washington, D.C., 20555-0001, Attn.: Rulemaking and Adjudications Staff.
Comments can be hand-carried to 11555 Rockville Pike, Rockville, Md., between 7:30 a.m. and 4:15 p.m. on federal work days, or they can be faxed to 301-415-1101.
E-mail comments can also be sent to SECY@nrc.gov. In addition, comments can also be submitted through the NRC’s eRulemaking Portal at www.regulations.gov. The entire proposed rule will also be available at that Web location. More information about the DBT and security requirements for NRC licensees can be found on the NRC’s Web site.“