Tuesday, March 26, 2002

FoxNews article on nuclear security

More on that Fox News article with the Markey comments noted elsewhere.

The article says "Twenty-one U.S. nuclear reactors are located within 5 miles of an airport, but 96 percent of all U.S. reactors weren't designed to withstand a crash from even a small airplane." This may be strictly true in that threats from airplanes may not be addressed specifically in the plants' Updated Final Safety Analysis Reports. But they do have measures for "missile protection" - buildings serving a containment function will address such problems as trees airborne by tornadoes. In general US commercial nuclear power plants are very strong and heavy and generally not desirable targets.

If you've seen any of the innumerable links to pictures of the plane that flew into the Pentagon, well, the plane didn't go in far and it disintegrated to the extent that some cranks even claim the crash never happened. Try that with a nuclear power plant containment building and you're talking something even more solid, and without windows or other such weak spots.

Another cut from the article: "It took the NRC almost 6 months after Sept. 11 to require enhanced security at nuclear reactors, and has yet to begin a permanent revision of security regulations following the terrorist attacks." Here is a government-centric attitude for you. Progress apparently depends not on what the plant operators do, but on what regulations are issued. If I were a plant manager I wouldn't wait for the regulators to get on board if I thought my plant had a problem. Commercial nuclear power plants are major assets, so you can bet that everybody all the way up to the board wants to protect them.

Finally we get this: Dave Lochbaum, a nuclear safety engineer with the Union of Concerned Scientists (a bland name for an old antinuker group), said existing NRC-required background checks are "somewhat limited": "I've worked in over 20 plants in the 17 years I was in the industry. Had I wanted to sabotage the plant, it wouldn't have been that difficult to do so," he said.

Well, yeah, I could have too, along with about anybody else in a position of trust with access and technical knowledge. If the fact that some individuals are trusted that means that security is inadequate then it simply can't ever be adequate, and the same logic goes for about anything else you care to mention. I mentioned my own experiences with background checks in another post, and although I won't argue semantics I wouldn't have described it as "somewhat limited".

Don't hesitate to leave comments or email (see the Feedback link on the right) if you have specific questions. Or you can check out some of the permalinks on the lower right, such as the terrific Nuclear Tourist site or the Canadian Nuclear FAQ.

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