The depravity of our opponents in Iraq et al knows few bounds. They don't seem to be lacking in inspiration for new types of attacks, either. All the same, I'm sure that many of you avoid speculating about what *might* be done just in case some murderous creep is reading and hasn't thought of it already. I know that *I* do.
But long before Hezbollah and their ilk was Murphy, as in Murphy's Law. No one is more creative than he. He saves some of his most ingenious work for nuclear power plants, as we saw almost 30 years ago at Three Mile Island. And it so happens that nuclear power plants need to chlorinate their water too, so there's always some chlorine around. What if...?
First let me note that chlorine, even as bottled gas, isn't exactly exotic. Odds are that it has been used to chlorinate your water at some time in the past at least, and the industrial hygiene concerns and rules are well evolved - many people know how to work with the stuff safely. And your local fire departments/emergency responders ought to know where the stuff is in your community and how to deal with it in the case of an accident.
But what about nuclear power plants? Could it harm the staff or otherwise impair control of the site?
Ah, we're a step ahead of you. I've been out of the commercial nuclear power industry for a while, but I can tell you that something like 15-20 years ago a concern arose with the use of gaseous chlorine on nuclear power plant sites. At that time at least it was the cheapest way to chlorinate water on a large scale. But lest some gas should be released inadvertantly, nuclear power plants were ordered to get the gas cylinders offsite. I expect that by now all sites have implemented this. The plant I am most familiar with now uses a solution of sodium hypochlorite (NaOCl) in water, which basically amounts to strong Clorox, to chlorinate their water. My guess is that most others do the same.
But that's not good enough - what if the creeps bring their own chlorine? Good point - the nuclear power industry has been concerned with that for years, and we're covered there too. You see, it's common to transport chlorine by rail in large quantities, and most nuclear power plant sites are close enough to railroad lines to need to be concerned with chlorine or whatever other toxic gases might be released in quantity nearby. So nuclear power plant control room ventilation systems have elaborate systems to detect the presence of gas and can responde automatically to protect the staff. And in case the control room should become uninhabitable even with Scott air packs (like what firemen use, and which are always present under Federal regulations for dealing with emergencies), there is another means for shutting down the plants safely, but I don't see the need for more detail right now.
What's more, US commercial nuclear power plants have communications systems with alarms that can be heard for miles, and other emergency response measures reinforced with federally monitored drills, preassigned duties and chains of command and other features too. You can bet that if the local nuke plant calls the sheriff, they'll answer the phone. If you live nearby, they know about it and have ways to evacuate you. Under non-nuclear emergency conditions, this civil defense apparatus would be available also (assuming there are no regulations against it).
US commercial nuclear power plants make lousy targets in any case. But that's another post.