DoD audit finds all US nuclear-power facilities inadequately protected against terrorism

posted at 10:41 am on August 16, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

Are America’s nuclear-power facilities uniquely vulnerable to terrorist attack? A new report by the Department of Defense says none of the 107 reactor sites in the US have adequately protected themselves against terrorist attack, but the bar seems a little high — at least as McClatchy reports:

All 107 nuclear reactors in the United States are inadequately protected from terrorist attacks, according to a Defense Department-commissioned report released Thursday.

The report, by the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Project at the University of Texas at Austin, warns that the current security required of civilian-operated reactors fails to safeguard against airplane attacks, rocket-propelled grenades and more than a small handful of attackers. …

“There are 104 nuclear power reactors and three research reactors, none of which are protected against a 9/11-style terrorist attack,” Alan J. Kuperman, an associate professor at the university who co-authored the report, said during a conference call Thursday.

He said current policies “leave U.S. nuclear facilities . . . vulnerable to credible terrorist threats of theft of bomb-grade material and sabotage that could cause a massive meltdown and release of radiation.”

At first this sounds damning, but, er … how is a nuclear reactor supposed to prevent a 9/11-style terrorist attack by airplanes?  That would require each facility to have at least its own battery of anti-aircraft artillery, and potentially its own air force, complete with standing orders to shoot down civilian aircraft that get too close and fail to respond.  It’s highly unlikely that existing facilities could strengthen their buildings to withstand a collision with a fully-loaded jumbo jet in the manner that the Pentagon did, for the most part.

There are similar problems with the other standards being applied in this blurb.  The only way for nuclear facilities to safeguard against RPG attacks is to control the ground for a thousand yards in any direction, the maximum range for RPG systems.  That’s over a half-mile, which would have to be closed to traffic, housing, industry, and so on. In California, the state’s biggest road (Interstate 5) goes right past San Onofre, for example, and would have to be rerouted in an almost impossible fashion. Similarly, guarding against “more than a small handful of attackers” would require an army to accomplish, although it is the most reasonable criterion on this list.

The solution for these issues isn’t going to be found at nuclear-power sites, not unless we put them all in Death Valley.  The US has to provide airport security to prevent a 9/11-style attack on a reactor, not the reactor facility, and we should be controlling our borders and policing our communities well enough to prevent RPG attacks and vast armies of terrorists from getting within shooting range of these facilities as well.  I’m all for improving security around nuclear reactors, but it’s also important to have realistic expectations about what can be done by the facilities themselves.  This sounds more like satire than serious analysis.


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Why worry? The EPA will do the job for the terr’rists anyway.

Jeddite on August 16, 2013 at 10:45 AM

That’s a picture of Santa Onofre.

bluegill on August 16, 2013 at 10:45 AM

Sure, the nuke reactors are unprotected, but have you seen how O’s backswing is improving? You gotta keep your priorities straight.

Wino on August 16, 2013 at 10:46 AM

Don’t we have some kind of remote control guns or missile launchers or something that could be installed at these sites?

bluegill on August 16, 2013 at 10:47 AM

maximum range for RPG systems.

Try 300 meters dude. Plus, the warhead on most RPGs wont penetrate reinforced concrete. There are numerous techniques that can be used to easily defeat RPGs, if that is their supposed threat as per their vulnerability assessment. Simply hanging chain-link fence at about two to three feet from the wall can great reduce the effects of the weapons. It causes the RPG warhead to “blow its load” before making contact with the wall.

MoreLiberty on August 16, 2013 at 10:47 AM

That’s a picture of Santa Onofre.

bluegill on August 16, 2013 at 10:45 AM

San Onofre

MoreLiberty on August 16, 2013 at 10:48 AM

Really? You mean they can all be destroyed by a directed energy weapon?

Well I guess so. Look what one did to the WTC.

Akzed on August 16, 2013 at 10:50 AM

What about our hydroelectric plants? Since September 11, 2001, my biggest fear is that someone would fly a passenger jet into the Hoover Dam.

Chris of Rights on August 16, 2013 at 10:50 AM

Try 300 meters dude

With all of the caveats of using Wikipedia noted …

Due to the lack of a guidance system in the RPG rockets, the operator must fire relatively close to the intended target, increasing the chances of being spotted. Most modern armies deploy anti tank guided missiles (ATGM) as their primary infantry anti-tank weapon, but the RPG still remains a potent threat to armored vehicles, especially in situations such as urban warfare or jungle warfare, where they are favored by guerrillas. They are most effective when used in restricted terrain as the availability of cover and concealment can make it difficult for the intended target to spot the RPG operator. Note that this concealment is often preferably outdoors, because firing an RPG within an enclosed area may create a dangerous backblast.

When deployed against personnel, the warhead can be aimed at a solid surface to detonate; popular choices being trees or buildings. Another option is an indirect method of firing the warhead over the intended target area at ranges of 800–1000 m where the warhead would detonate automatically. More skilled shooters can use the RPG self-destruct feature to make it explode over the enemy at closer range. When used in this fashion, the RPG is being used almost like an artillery weapon.

On top of that, some of the systems listed in the article have effective ranges listed as high as 700 meters.

Ed Morrissey on August 16, 2013 at 10:51 AM

While this, with “2200 ‘mistakes’” exposed, thank God.

Clapper s/b fired and in jail.

obama s/b fired and in jail.

Schadenfreude on August 16, 2013 at 11:01 AM

The majority of electricity generating facilities are operated by private corporations. As such, the cost of security is calculated just like all other operating costs. In all too many cases, what is seen, in order to minimize cost, is an appearance of security, not real security. How do a couple of security officers, armed with handguns only, deter a determined attack from a carload of people, who in all likelihood, will be armed with AK47s, RPGs, and explosives?
Any privately owned facilities, determined to be critical national security infrastructure, should be staffed with officers armed with rifles. Those officers need to be trained and qualified with those weapons, and subject to continual, ongoing, weapons training. And they need to have a plan on just what they are going to do tactically, in the event of an attack. To base your facility defense, on the arrival of the local SWAT team, guarantees, that by the time they arrive, there will be extensive damage and death at the facility.

kjatexas on August 16, 2013 at 11:04 AM

On top of that, some of the systems listed in the article have effective ranges listed as high as 700 meters.

Ed Morrissey on August 16, 2013 at 10:51 AM

I’m sure “wikipedia” is all fine but the overwhelming vast majority of RPGs are RPG-7s, the old Soviet design. Yes there are knew designs but extremists groups overwhelming use the RPG-7…which if we are using the “wikipedia” as a “reference” they claim it’s effective range is even less than 300 meters. What you need to look at is effective range, the lower the velocity the significantly less change that the warhead will even detonate upon impact.

MoreLiberty on August 16, 2013 at 11:04 AM

At first this sounds damning, but, er … how is a nuclear reactor supposed to prevent a 9/11-style terrorist attack by airplanes?

Through massive government spending, unrestrained surveillance of domestic US citizens and unfettered executive-branch rulemaking, obviously. Every problem the government identifies can be solved using those three simple tools.

Fabozz on August 16, 2013 at 11:11 AM

So there must be a very good reason our vulnerability has been made public by the DOD.

Right?

I mean other than having idiots in charge.

fogw on August 16, 2013 at 11:11 AM

MoreLiberty on August 16, 2013 at 11:04 AM

Fair points, but we’re still talking about having three football fields cleared all the way around exiting nuclear reactor facilities. Is that practical? I somehow doubt it.

Ed Morrissey on August 16, 2013 at 11:13 AM

The report, by the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Project

Hmmmm…….out of the mouths of idiots.

GarandFan on August 16, 2013 at 11:15 AM

How do a couple of security officers, armed with handguns only, deter a determined attack from a carload of people, who in all likelihood, will be armed with AK47s, RPGs, and explosives?
kjatexas on August 16, 2013 at 11:04 AM

As someone in the industry, I can assure you that security at nuke plants is much more robust than “handguns only”. All security personnel carry assault rifles as well as pistols. Sniper rifles are used in guard towers. In addition, their are countless fortifications and defenses to prevent anyone coming close to the protected area.

The nuclear power industry is plagued with enough misinformation from enviros… please don’t add to it.

Daft Punk on August 16, 2013 at 11:18 AM

The majority of electricity generating facilities are operated by private corporations. As such, the cost of security is calculated just like all other operating costs. In all too many cases, what is seen, in order to minimize cost, is an appearance of security, not real security.

Not true!

How do a couple of security officers, armed with handguns only, deter a determined attack from a carload of people, who in all likelihood, will be armed with AK47s, RPGs, and explosives?

They are very well trained and challenged all of the time to prove qualifications.

Any privately owned facilities, determined to be critical national security infrastructure, should be staffed with officers armed with rifles. Those officers need to be trained and qualified with those weapons, and subject to continual, ongoing, weapons training.

They are.

And they need to have a plan on just what they are going to do tactically, in the event of an attack.

They do.

To base your facility defense, on the arrival of the local SWAT team, guarantees, that by the time they arrive, there will be extensive damage and death at the facility.

They don’t!

kjatexas on August 16, 2013 at 11:04 AM

whbates on August 16, 2013 at 11:27 AM

Well, for all of you who disagree, with my assessment, I wish I worked at YOUR facility.

kjatexas on August 16, 2013 at 11:31 AM

The only way to prevent pregnancy 100% is to abstain from sex. The left is applying this principle to avoiding terrorist attacks on nuke plants. They will next use this information to demand closure of all nuke plants.

freedomfirst on August 16, 2013 at 11:38 AM

DoD audit finds all US nuclear-power facilities inadequately protected against terrorism

I am very concerned that the obviously PHONY threat of terrorism might interfere with the obama administration’s ‘LASER-LIKE FOCUS’ on the greatest danger facing America today … RODEO CLOWNS.

Pork-Chop on August 16, 2013 at 11:41 AM

Well, for all of you who disagree, with my assessment, I wish I worked at YOUR facility.

kjatexas on August 16, 2013 at 11:31 AM

If you actually work at a facility you would, or should, know that there are ways to report your misgivings or concerns anonymously if you think you can’t (or are afraid to) report your concerns to management. If you don’t know this you should.

whbates on August 16, 2013 at 11:46 AM

@whbates I already have reported it, and nothing was done.

kjatexas on August 16, 2013 at 11:48 AM

An RPG wouldn’t do squat to one of those facilities, the warhead is tiny. Sure it has a range of anywhere from 300 to a 1000 meters but that is max range, not effective range, two very different things. The bozo that wrote that report doesn’t know his rear from a hole in the ground about weapons. Nobody is hijacking planes these days either, nobody is going to sit around and let them do it.

major dad on August 16, 2013 at 11:50 AM

And lets remember, not all electricity generating plants, are nuclear.

kjatexas on August 16, 2013 at 11:51 AM

98% of people on God’s green earth have sh*t-for-brains 98% of the time. This is one of those times.

ultracon on August 16, 2013 at 12:11 PM

Terrorists? They can’t even keep nuns out: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/05/08/nun-protesters-guilty-nuclear-plant/2145361/.

NCC on August 16, 2013 at 12:20 PM

That’s a picture of Santa San Onofre.

bluegill on August 16, 2013 at 10:45 AM

Yes, who could miss the distinctive “Dolly Parton” look of those reactors. Ya think the engineers had a good laugh at that during design?

bbordwell on August 16, 2013 at 12:28 PM

This sounds more like anti-nuke propaganda than any plausible concern about terrorism. No surprise there.

slickwillie2001 on August 16, 2013 at 12:29 PM

Why not trying to read the actual report?

The report was authored by liberal LBJ Public Policy Institute and University of Texas, Austin. One of the authors was a former staffer of Chuck Schumer and the other is a supporter of Wendy Davis.

Try a little research.

Kermit on August 16, 2013 at 1:10 PM

Well, they can just set up buys for some of those SAMs we laundered through Lybia that were destined for Syria.

reaganaut on August 16, 2013 at 1:14 PM

How do a couple of security officers, armed with handguns only, deter a determined attack from a carload of people, who in all likelihood, will be armed with AK47s, RPGs, and explosives?

kjatexas on August 16, 2013 at 11:04 AM

Just so you know. Our security officers had plenty of military grade weapons available and they trained regularly with them at our on-site range. They also drilled regularly on intrusion detection and threat nullification. Safeguards information is the only aspect of a nuclear power plant that is considered confidential. There is, therefore, almost no information available to the general public about nuclear power plant security. Matter of fact very few plant employees are cleared for Safeguards information. Our security force was not a bunch of rent-a-cops. They were trained professionals. Their ranks were full of ex military, SEALs, Rangers, Green Berets and ex police officers. Oh, and there were way more than a couple of them.

Oldnuke on August 16, 2013 at 1:20 PM

An RPG wouldn’t do squat to one of those facilities, the warhead is tiny.

major dad on August 16, 2013 at 11:50 AM

If it was put into the right target it could cripple the facility easily. The right target is NOT the containment building. I can think of several easily reached targets that would cause considerable havoc if hit with even a small explosive device.

Oldnuke on August 16, 2013 at 1:25 PM

BOOGITYBOOGITYBOOGITY!!!!!!

CTD on August 16, 2013 at 1:31 PM

Everywhere I look I think of my wife. – The Naked Gun

Oil Can on August 16, 2013 at 1:34 PM

i’m sure the release of this has nothing to do with the court ruling on the Yucca storage site and barry’s overreach.

r keller on August 16, 2013 at 2:03 PM

Well, of course all those power plants are subject to an attack. We can’t even run in a foot race without being attacked. But, just let my 92yo mother try to get on an airplane without being frisked. Talk about misplaced priorities, clowns can’t even wear masks anymore.

Kissmygrits on August 16, 2013 at 2:27 PM

@Oldnuke: Sound like you’ve got a good crew and training regimen. I can’t speak for nuke power plants, because I don’t work at one. I would certainly expect ex special operations people to be able to shoot, and to be familiar with weapons. I don’t necessarily extend that to all people who are ex military or law enforcement. Having worked federal contracts, with those types, that pedigree doesn’t mean they can shoot. Many of them were barely able to qualify with their handguns. Although, the course of fire was considerably more demanding than a standard security course of fire. I have yet to work a post where semi-automatic rifles are allowed. Many private security companies are very wary of the kind of liability that entails, and are not willing to provide the training or hire the higher priced people, that would demand. Even the federal contacts I worked, required the officers to carry .38 Special revolvers (and don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against a fine revolver). They did upgrade to semi-automatics after I moved on.

kjatexas on August 16, 2013 at 2:41 PM

Yes, who could miss the distinctive “Dolly Parton” look of those reactors. Ya think the engineers had a good laugh at that during design?

bbordwell on August 16, 2013 at 12:28 PM

Except those always come in pairs.

unclesmrgol on August 16, 2013 at 2:51 PM

I worked many nuclear plants when they were on an outage and the Navy Seals use them for training targets because they are well protected and difficult to enter. This training is almost a continuos happening. Sense when is the media a believable judge of security.

mixplix on August 16, 2013 at 2:53 PM

If it was put into the right target it could cripple the facility easily. The right target is NOT the containment building. I can think of several easily reached targets that would cause considerable havoc if hit with even a small explosive device.

Oldnuke on August 16, 2013 at 1:25 PM

I can think of several every time I drive by San Onofre. Not that my targets would do any damage whatsoever given that the liberals of California have decided that San Onofre ought to be shut down…

unclesmrgol on August 16, 2013 at 2:53 PM

i’m sure the release of this has nothing to do with the court ruling on the Yucca storage site and barry’s overreach.

r keller on August 16, 2013 at 2:03 PM

I believe you win a cupie doll.

whbates on August 16, 2013 at 2:54 PM

Oldnuke on August 16, 2013 at 1:20 PM

As I recall, the SEAL’s “Red Team” rated nuclear power plants among the toughest targets to infiltrate/attack.

Solaratov on August 16, 2013 at 2:58 PM

That baked in ‘stimulus’, every year, sure is paying dividends.

There has never been any preventive action because that would ruin the drama for even more dumbass government. Always reactionary to the best effect for ‘fixing it’.

mickytx on August 16, 2013 at 3:03 PM

Hitting the right target is a big if. RPGs are not that accurate, you would have to be pretty close to have even a good chance to hit a small target. Terrorists would have to penetrate the grounds to have a reasonable shot. Disable the plant, not that hard but I think what everyone is worried about is the reactor. RPG at range is not the weapon. Having been stationed at Camp Pendleton, where San Onofre is located, terrorists are not getting close to it. They are shutting it down anyway.

major dad on August 16, 2013 at 4:29 PM

As I recall, the SEAL’s “Red Team” rated nuclear power plants among the toughest targets to infiltrate/attack.

Solaratov on August 16, 2013 at 2:58 PM

We’ve had special forces evaluation teams come through to determine the possibility of mounting a successful attack on us specifically. Not a very high probability of success.

Oldnuke on August 16, 2013 at 5:55 PM

Heh…I know this to be true, having delivered parts and equipment to several of them when I used to drive truck. Trust me, it’s pretty easy for people to get in there. My truck was never searched, and I could have hidden several people in the sleeper (not that I would, of course). There’s no constantine wire, and easy access if you have a set of bolt cutters, which can be purchased in almost any hardware store. Security at those places is a joke. There are miles of unsecured fencing around those plants. Sure, they scrutinize you at the gate, but is a terrorist going to be polite and use the gate?

sage0925 on August 16, 2013 at 7:32 PM

Sure, they scrutinize you at the gate, but is a terrorist going to be polite and use the gate?

sage0925 on August 16, 2013 at 7:32 PM

This tells me that you accessed the owner controlled area not the protected area. Totally different scenario. The owner controlled area is fairly easy to access. The protected area, not so much.

Oldnuke on August 16, 2013 at 7:48 PM

Heh…I know this to be true, having delivered parts and equipment to several of them when I used to drive truck. Trust me,

sage0925 on August 16, 2013 at 7:32 PM

Just so you know. Parts and equipment are almost never delivered into the protected area by outside truckers. They are delivered to a warehouse facility outside the protected area and transported into the protected area by plant personnel. There are exceptions but they are rare and handled in a special way. We had no warehouse facilities inside our protected area. I’ve never seen any nuke site where the warehouses were located inside the protected area.

Oldnuke on August 16, 2013 at 7:54 PM

One thing we COULD try is building more reactors but of much smaller size, so that if worst comes to worst we don’t lose an entire state for the next thousand years. But that would require our energy policy to not be dictated by overpromoted tribals and overdressed harlots.

MelonCollie on August 17, 2013 at 11:12 AM