Nuclear, O&M, Reactors

Security overhaul proposed at nuclear power plants


Kate Thomas
OGJ Online

HOUSTON, Oct. 5, 2001 — Armed security guards could use deadly force to protect US nuclear electric power facilities under a bipartisan bill introduced in the US House by Reps. Billy Tauzin, (R-La.), chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and ranking member John Dingell (D-Mich.).

The measure is part of a sweeping security overhaul that would be required in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks in New York City and Washington, DC. It would set uniform federal standards for protection of nuclear power facilities, require spent fuel shipments be escorted by armed guards capable of repelling attacks by a “large number of attackers working as several coordinated teams,” upgrade penalties for sabotage of a nuclear plant, and require the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to assess the vulnerability of nuclear power plants to terrorist attacks.

Presently, the states have discretion over the use of deadly force at nuclear plants and the standards vary widely from state to state. In some states, deadly force is permissible only for self defense. The measure would clarify the law to allow deadly force if there is a threat against a nuclear plant. The measure would also require armed guards at nuclear facilities to be licensed.

Tauzin said the nuclear safety proposals were in response to a request from the NRC to improve safety in and around nuclear facilities.

A spokesman for the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry trade group, said the industry hasn’t taken a stand on the proposals, although it has been following them closely. “It’s purely in the evaluation stage at this point,” said NEI spokesman Mitch Singer. “We have looked at the suggestions for increased weaponry.”

The measures were incorporated into proposed amendments to the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 and are part of series of overall energy infrastructure security proposals lawmakers have introduced since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks against New York City and Washington, DC.

The House and Senate are expected to take up and agree on energy and water security legislation by the end of the month. The final measure will include input from the Energy Department, the Interior Department, and the Environmental Protection Agency and likely will include protection for critical oil, gas, and electric infrastructures.

Since terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, Congress and the Bush administration have been working on new policy measures to protect the energy industry. House leaders are also addressing security concerns through a special subcommittee formed last month in the wake of the attacks.

Ever since the attacks, the nuclear power industry has been on the highest state of alert but questions continue to be raised about their safety. The bill would require the NRC to assess the industry’s vulnerability to physical, cyber, biochemical, and other terrorists threats, make recommendations, and report its findings to congress.

The NRC also would be required to institute a new rulemaking to consider changes to the design basis used by the industry to protect facilities, taking into consideration the Sept. 11 attacks, the potential for attack by teams of at least 20 people, the potential for help from insiders, the potential for suicide attacks, and the use of explosives.