As the events of September 11, 2001 tragically demonstrated, the
risk of a nuclear reactor meltdown must encompass not only the
potential for an accident but also the possibility of sabotage. The
U.S. government has known since at least the mid-1990's that
terrorists were targeting nuclear power plants. According to the
Ramzi Yousef, the convicted mastermind of the 1993
World Trade Center bombing, encouraged followers in 1994 to strike
such a plant, officials say. An FBI agent has testified in court
that one of Yousef's followers told him in 1995 of plans to blow up
a nuclear plant. And in 1999 the NRC acknowledged to Congress that
it had received a credible threat of a terrorist attack against a
nuclear power facility.2
Prior to September 11 th 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.3 These attempts were in spite of 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 simulate sabotaging safety
equipment.4 Rather than addressing the nuclear
industry's inability to protect itself from mock terrorists, the
NRC has moved to allow the nuclear industry to test itself.
Risk and the Nuclear Industry
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 in either the reactor or the spent fuel
pool, the accident could kill and injure tens of thousands of
people, cost billions of dollars in damages and leave large regions
The threat of such an accident has long been the subject of
debate among government regulators, the nuclear industry and a
skeptical public. Not surprisingly, the nuclear industry and those
that purport to regulate it have down played the potential of such
an accident. However, if the nuclear industry is so confident in
the "safety" of its reactors and the long-lived radioactive wastes
that they produce, why must the American taxpayer indemnify the
industry against the financial consequences of nuclear accident
through the Price Anderson Act?6
In reality, nuclear power is an inherently dangerous activity.
Splitting atoms is the most complicated and dangerous way to
produce electricity. Until recently, we have spoken of the threat
posed by a nuclear reactor in terms of the risk of an accident. A
basic definition of risk is:
Risk = Probability x Consequences
The "risk" is the risk of a catastrophic accident. "Probability"
is the likelihood of an event happening. "Consequences" are the
effect that event has on people, property and the environment.
According to the government's own studies, the consequences of an
accident at one of the 103 nuclear reactors throughout the U.S.
would be devastating. Even before the events of September 11th, the
magnitude of the risk posed by nuclear power plants was so great
that the federal government should have phased out nuclear power in
the United States. The incalculable threat of sabotage makes the
continued operation of these reactors unacceptable. Nuclear power
now constitutes a national security threat.
2 John Solomon, Details of Nuclear Power Left Open,
Associated Press, October 24, 2001.
3 U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Memorandum to
William D. Travers, Executive Director of Operations, From: Captain
David N. Orrik USN (Ret.), Security Specialist, NRR, Subject:
Differing Professional Opinion Regarding NRC's Reduction of
Effectiveness and Efficiency in ther Staff Recommendations of the
Follow-On OSRE Program for Nuclear Power Plants, February 3, 1999,
4 U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Briefing on
Safeguards Performance Assessment, May 5, 1999,pp. 54-56.
5 United States House of Representatives, Committee
on Interior and Insular Affairs, Subcommittee on Oversight &
Investigations, "Calculation of Reactor Accident Consequences
(CRAC2) for U.S. Nuclear Power Plants" November 1, 1982; R. J.
Travis, R. E. Davis, E. J. Grove, and M. A. Azarm, Brookhaven
National Laboratory, NUREG/CR-6451, "A Safety and Regulatory
Assessment of Generic BWR and PWR Permanently Shutdown Nuclear
Power Plants," August 1997, and Nuclear Regulatory Commission,
"Technical Study of Spent Fuel Pool Accident Risk at
Decommissioning Nuclear Power Plants," October 2000.
6 U.S. Nuclear Regulatory
Commission, The Price-Anderson Act -- Crossing the Bridge to the
Next Century: A Report to Congress, October 1998.