Nuclear, Reactors

Report Says Nuclear Plant Army Would Be Counterproductive

Issue 2 and Volume 106.

A new report by the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) concludes that, because of the high caliber of existing security forces, and because a power plant’s management should be unified across operational and security functions, legislative proposals to federalize nuclear security forces offer no advantages. On the contrary, federalization of security officers could complicate responses to acts of terrorism or sabotage.

The report, Implications of Security Force Federalization on Nuclear Power Plant Security, notes that nuclear plant security officers are continually trained professionals with high levels of expertise and job satisfaction. Of the more than 5,000 trained professionals who comprise the industry’s security forces, about 67 percent have prior military, law enforcement or industrial security experience. On average, a nuclear security officer receives 270 hours of training prior to being deployed, and spends about 60 hours annually completing requalification training, with about 30 hours spent on anti-terrorist tactical training exercises.

The report does, however, call for federal legislation that would grant a nuclear plant’s security forces the authority to use deadly force to protect the plant. That would provide the Nuclear Regulatory Commission with the authority to permit security forces to carry and use weapons, like automatic rifles and handguns, commensurate with the plant’s responsibilities to meet regulatory security requirements.

The report states that there is no clear advantage to a federal security force. But there are significant disadvantages.

The NEI report warns that federalization legislation championed by Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada and Rep. Ed Markey of Massachusetts would compel the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to add 5,000 employees, tripling the agency’s size. Such legislation would also create dual chains of authority, one for security and the other for plant operations. Doing so would decentralize authority and conceivably slow down the decision-making process for emergency responses.

Federalization of security officers also would pose other problems for effectively managing a plant. For example, plant management must achieve a balance between physical security features – such as barriers and locked access doors – and necessary access to plant equipment and systems. Separate lines of authority, acting under separate sets of regulations covering the federal government and the private sector, could create institutionalized conflicts.

The report also concludes that federalization would have a negative impact on the quality of the plant security forces. Due to restrictions imposed by federal law and/or local laws associated with pension credits, many of the security officers could not serve as federal employees without losing some of those benefits. “They will choose to leave this service and seek different private employment,” the report warns. In addition, the hiring, training and management of a new work force could result in a “transition period of diminished efficiency and security protection.”

NRC chairman Richard Meserve reported in January that U.S. nuclear plants remain at their highest state of alert following the Sept. 11 attacks. Meserve said there is no way they can be considered soft targets for terrorism. He said the security at nuclear plants is and has always been far more substantial than that at other civilian facilities, and it has been augmented since Sept. 11.

That additional security takes the form of extra patrols and security posts, along with heavier weapons and more coordination with local law enforcement and military resources, he said. For the past few decades, Meserve said, plant security has been based on a maximum attack force along the lines of handful of commandos armed with automatic weapons, explosives and perhaps a truck bomb. The airplane attacks at the World Trade Center and Pentagon, however, prompted the NRC to start analyzing the consequences of a similar attack on a reactor’s containment building, he said. That analysis continues as part of the overall review.

Defending against such an attack, such as with anti-aircraft missiles, is beyond the scope of private companies, Meserve said. The NRC, therefore, has to draw a line between what is required of plant operators and what the government must do, he said.