The American Nuclear Society and its members, like people all over the world, were saddened by the terrorist attacks on America in September. We, along with many others, recognize that these attacks create a need to review the security of all our vital institutions--dams, electric power lines, gas pipelines, chemical facilities, and nuclear power plants--against further attacks. As experts on nuclear technology, some of our members have turned their attention to analyzing and addressing the potential threat to the nation's nuclear power plants.
Prior to September 11, the threat of a large commercial aircraft crash into a nuclear facility had generally not been considered. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is now addressing such threats. Until they complete their analysis, we will not be able to respond definitively to questions on nuclear power plant vulnerabilities. However, we do know a lot about the design of nuclear plants, and can comment generally on their resistance to a possible terrorist threat.
Nuclear power plants are among the safest of facilities with respect to challenges from a wide range of potential sources of damage. Specifically, nuclear power plants are enclosed in containment buildings made of steel and reinforced concrete up to four feet thick. They are some of the strongest buildings built by man, and analysis has shown they can withstand a range of severe threats, including earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, and small aircraft crashes. This gives them considerable resistance even to unexpected threats, such as from larger aircraft.
Furthermore, nuclear power plants have long been guarded by well-trained, armed security forces to defend against armed assaults and acts of sabotage. Since September 11, security enhancements have been put in place to provide even more resistance to such threats.
In addition, there are many safety systems within plants that are designed to operate during a severe event to protect the vital portions of the reactor.
For all these reasons, nuclear power plants are considered difficult, and therefore, unattractive, targets for a terrorist attack, and, even if attacked, are highly likely to survive without a significant release of radioactive material.
It should also be noted that nuclear power plays an important role in helping our nation achieve energy independence, which is critically important to our long-term national security. Reducing our dependence on volatile parts of the world limits the potential of foreign nations and terrorist groups to launch successful initiatives against us.
As we continue to understand the terrorist risks better, more information will become available, and more protective measures may be implemented. Additional sources of information, now and as this work proceeds, include the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (www.nrc.gov), Nuclear Energy Institute (www.nei.org), and your local utility.