Sabotage and Terrorism

Page - April 7, 2005
After the events of September 11, the risk of a nuclear reactor meltdown must encompass not only the potential for an accident but also the very real possibility of sabotage.

The U.S. government has known since at least the mid- 1990s that terrorists were targeting nuclear power plants. According to the Associated Press, Ramzi Yousef, convicted of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, encouraged followers to strike a nuclear reactor. The FBI testified in court that one of Yousef's followers had plans to blow up a nuclear plant. In 1999 the NRC acknowledged to Congress that it had received a credible threat of a terrorist attack against a nuclear power facility.

Prior to September 11 and despite the known threat, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) staff repeatedly attempted to kill the government's program for testing security at nuclear reactors. Despite an abysmal security record, in which 47 percent of the reactors tested had significant security weaknesses and in over 40 exercises mock terrorists were able to reach and simulate sabotaging safety equipment, the NRC staff has moved to allow the nuclear industry to test itself.

Each nuclear reactor has the potential to devastate the region in which it operates. The potential for such devastation lies in the radioactive fuel that fires the nuclear power plant. The radioactive fuel rods, whether inside the reactor or in the spent fuel pool, must be cooled to prevent them from melting down. If a meltdown were to occur either in the reactor or in the spent fuel pool, the accident could kill and injure tens of thousands of people, leaving large regions uninhabitable.

Nuclear power plants have posed a threat to the public health and safety long before the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The government and the nuclear industry have themselves, accidentally melted down several nuclear reactors. The U.S. nuclear reactors that have experienced partial core melt accidents include:

Reactor Accident Date Location
EBR-1 (Experimental Breeder Reactor) 11/29/55 Idaho Falls, ID
WTR (Westinghouse Testing Reactor) 04/03/60 Waltz Mill, PA
SL-1 (Stationary Low Power Reactor) 01/03/61 Idaho Falls, ID
Fermi-1 10/05/66 Lagoona Beach, MI
Three Mile Island 03/28/79 Harrisburg, PA

Now that terrorists are targeting nuclear plants, these reactors are not merely a dangerous and complicated way to boil water but also constitute a national security threat.

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