~e; Survivability of nuclear plants to be re-examined
brian carroll <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sat, 6 Oct 2001 22:24:15 -0600
fyi: (it was stated in the news that national guard units were
patrolling nuclear power plants after the 9/11 attack in the US. the
current US energy policy has plans for rolling out many more of these
large, centralized plants in the future. hopefully US energy policy
will be re-examined for the benefits of a massive decentralized power
grid, where there are millions of generators. there could be an
opportunity in the tragic seriousness of what lies ahead, in that
change, indeed, is necessary, in US culture, as it is not omnipotent
to attack, which surprised most all, and second, that to ignore this
in public policy would be a grave mistake, beyond political, if
inter-national security issues were brought up with regards to
vulnerabilities of the current system. for example, apparently a
stray bullet from a gun made a major problem for the alaska oil
pipeline. one bullet. and a major artery for the oil distribution
system in the US. if this were distributed (not oil per se, but
energy and its transformations, minimizing largest-scale projects for
myriad reasons, and enacting local power projects, to offer an
'energy grid' much like the data-packet redundancy of the Internet,
when one thing fails, the whole system does not go down.) just some
This article was sent to you by someone who found it on SF Gate.
The original article can be found on SFGate.com here:
Friday, October 5, 2001 (SF Chronicle)
Survivability of nuclear plants to be re-examined
Keay Davidson, Chronicle Science Writer
After initially playing down the chance that a falling jetliner could
disable or destroy a nuclear power plant, the Nuclear Regulatory
Commission is now planning to study whether a plant could survive such a
The agency's shift comes amid heightened concern about the vulnerability
of nuclear facilities to terrorist attacks. A Chronicle review of recent
NRC inspections shows that although nuclear plants serving California are
generally secure, they may not be 100 percent safe.
Immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the
Pentagon, the NRC issued a reassuring statement: "Although nuclear power
plants are not explicitly designed to withstand the crash of a large
commercial airliner, plants have inherent capability to provide for the
protection of public health and safety.
"Prestressed concrete containments -- typically 4 to 5 feet thick -- are
so robust that it is unlikely that a jumbo jet could penetrate the
containment structure. Furthermore, plant designs employ redundant safety
equipment, along with highly trained operators, to limit potential
But three weeks later, NRC officials are sounding less confident. "Back
when these plants were designed, we . . . did not assume that a heavy,
wide- bodied airliner would be used as a guided missile to attack a
plant," NRC representative Breck Henderson acknowledged this week.
Now, the agency is planning a study to determine whether a plant could
survive an airliner crash. "I don't think it's going to be a real quick
analysis -- it's going take some time," Henderson said. "We're being
intentionally vague on this because we haven't decided how we're going to
Asked whether the NRC can assure the public that a nuclear plant would
withstand an airliner crash, Henderson replied: "I don't think we can be
that strong and specific. . . . Would it be a big mess? Of course, it
would be a big mess. Would it lead to multiple tens of thousands of
deaths? That's much less certain."
The worst-case consequence of a reactor accident is a "meltdown," which
could spew radioactive poisons into the environment. In 1979, the Three
Mile Island nuclear reactor in Harrisburg, Pa., experienced a partial
meltdown. The nuclear accident, the worst in American history, released
what the plant owner characterized as a small amount of radioactivity into
In Congress, heightened concern about the vulnerability of nuclear plants
to a terrorist attack is prompting legislative action. The House Energy
and Commerce Committee approved language this week that authorizes guards
at NRC- licensed facilities to carry and use weapons to protect the
facilities or prevent theft of special nuclear materials.
Meanwhile, a Chronicle review of NRC inspection records offers a generally
- - but not totally -- reassuring picture of security at three nuclear
plants serving California. Despite generally high scores, the Diablo
Canyon, San Onofre and Palo Verde (which is near Phoenix) nuclear plants
were cited by the NRC for a variety of security screwups this year and
The most dramatic inspections involve the NRC's simulated terrorist raids
on the nuclear plants.
In a mock raid on the San Onofre nuclear plant north of San Diego in
November 2000, guards' response made NRC inspectors suspect that had the
raid been real, it might have left vulnerable facilities or equipment that
help to prevent a reactor accident.
The raids are technically known as Operational Safeguards Response
Evaluations. OSRE tests reportedly involve "terrorists" who "shoot" at
guards, and vice versa, using laser "guns." If a laser beam hits a sensor
on someone's body, he is recorded as disabled or killed.
On Nov. 28 and 29, the NRC's OSRE team made a simulated raid on the San
Onofre plant. Monitoring the plant operators' response, NRC officials
spotted a problem that in a real-life raid might have had "a credible
impact on safety, " according to their official report.
Exactly what that "credible impact" was is classified. Both NRC and the
plant's co-owner, Southern California Edison, refuse to give extensive
The NRC report does acknowledge that "a vulnerability in the (plant's)
protective strategy was identified that could have resulted in the
simulated loss of a target set."
In interviews, officials refused to specifically define "target set."
However, they indicated it includes plant facilities and equipment that
must be protected to prevent an accident up to and including the nightmare
a reactor meltdown.
"The issue was more than minor," the NRC report adds, "because the
potential loss of a target set represents a credible impact on safety."
If a target set is lost, then conceivably "significant (nuclear) core
damage would be the result, which is tantamount to a meltdown," says
Cornell University-trained physicist Edwin Lyman of the Nuclear Control
Institute of Washington, D.C. The private group has criticized security
standards at nuclear plants.
In an interview, Southern California Edison spokesman Ray Golden stated
that the simulated raid was terminated early for reasons he was unable to
explain. Hence "we were never able to demonstrate our ability to stop the
adversary, and they were never able to demonstrate their ability to
penetrate our (plant). . . . We think we have a very good security program
At the three plants since mid-2000, NRC inspectors have generally praised
their security. However, they cited slipups that include:
-- On Dec. 20, 2000, an NRC inspector managed to gain admittance to a
Diablo Canyon power plant building when a plant employee opened the door
to him without first checking a closed-circuit TV camera.
-- During dismantling of a decommissioned reactor at San Onofre in 2000, a
"breach" or opening was formed in plant equipment that no one noticed for
six days. The NRC report concluded that the breach posed a "very low"
safety risk because it was probably too small for a human to pass through.
-- At the Palo Verde plant in July 2000, "significant safeguards
information was stored in an unlocked safeguards container outside of the
protected area. The safe contained numerous safeguards documents,
including the (plant) protective strategy and the target set lists."
Jim McDonald, a spokesman for the Palo Verde plant, said the safe was
unlocked for a mundane reason: After a routine change in the lock's
combination, a staff member did not "spin the (safe) dial when he
completed his work."
E-mail Keay Davidson at email@example.com.
Copyright 2001 SF Chronicle
electromagnetism / infrastructure / civilization