A group of Congressional representatives and environmentalists is calling for stronger regulation of spent nuclear fuel, saying the nation’s 103 working nuclear plants remain vulnerable to attack.

“Nearly five years after Sept. 11, we know that terrorists are still plotting to attack this country,” said Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-Middletown.

“Just as we must take steps abroad to ensure that terrorists don’t acquire nuclear weapons from rogue states,” he said, “we must pay equal, if not more attention, to ensuring that our own nuclear material is not vulnerable to attack.”

The group, including Rep. Eliot Engel, D-Bronx, and officials from Riverkeeper, called on President Bush and the Republican majority in Congress to heed warnings from the National Academy of Sciences that spent fuel at the nation’s 103 working nuclear reactors is vulnerable.

The group wants the government to mandate that fuel be moved from water to dry storage casks that have been “hardened against terrorist attack.”

“The federal government must better secure the spent fuel pools at Indian Point and all other nuclear power plants,” said Rep. Sue Kelly, R-Katonah, who wasn’t part of the group. She added that a greater Coast Guard presence is needed to protect facilities along navigable waterways.

Indian Point spokesman Jim Steets called the press conference at the U.S. Capitol a “publicity stunt,” saying protection of the 2,500 spent fuel assemblies at the Buchanan site was upgraded after the Sept. 11 attacks.

“This is just a rehash of issues dealt with years ago, raised by people whose only interest is closing the plant, not securing it,” Steets said. “The spent fuel pools are well-protected. They’re largely underground, covered by 6-foot-thick concrete walls. We’ve increased the size of our security force and given them special training in weapons, as well as installed concrete vehicle barriers and greater monitoring.”

He added that the company has begun plans to move spent fuel from storage pools to dry casks, which will be designed to withstand terrorist attacks.

Riverkeeper’s president Alex Matthiessen said not enough has been done.

“The spent fuel at Indian Point is scarcely more secure than it was before 9/11 despite the fact that the New York metro area, with 20 million inhabitants, continues to be at the top of the terrorist target list,” he said. “It is astonishing that five years after the worst terrorist attack in history, the federal government has not even taken the most obvious steps to secure our country’s nuclear power plant infrastructure.”

Neil Sheehan, a spokesman for NRC, said it was “highly inaccurate” to portray any spent fuel pools as unprotected.

“We have carefully assessed the security of spent fuel pools and dry cask storage facilities and found them to be safe,” he said.

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