Ten years after 9-11: Nuclear Plants and Their Deadly Wastes Still Vulnerable

by Jim Riccio

September 9, 2011

Nuclear Regulatory Commission Panel

A decade ago, nineteen suicidal terrorists hijacked airliners and turned them into weapons by flying them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Since those horrific attacks, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the nuclear industry have repeatedly claimed that nuclear plants were not vulnerable to a similar attack.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Rather than reduce the risks posed by nuclear power plants and their deadly wastes, nuclear bureaucrats have trafficked in half-truths about the vulnerability to a 9-11-type attack. When former NRC Chairman Dale Klein was asked what would happen if Al Qaeda flew a plane into a nuclear reactor, Klein’s response was that, “in general the plane would bounce off.”

Unbelievable! Documents the NRC scrubbed from its own web site after 9-11 come to a very different conclusion. The report prepared by Argonne National Labs contradicts the NRC and industry claims of invulnerability and details accident sequences in which, “the core would most probably be headed for serious damage if not total meltdown.”

But the radiation from a meltdown of the reactor is not the only threat. The waste pools that store the highly radioactive fuel rods are also at risk. According to NRC’s own study, one third of U.S. nuclear reactors “do not appear to have any significant structures that might reduce the likelihood of aircraft penetration [of the spent fuel pool].

The NRC has now dithered for a decade while suicidal terrorists have eye balled U.S reactors and their radioactive wastes as “nice targets.”

Rather than merely portray nuclear plants as hardened targets, the nuclear regulators should force the industry to move radioactive wastes into hardened on site storage and thereby reduce the potential consequences of a terrorist attack on a nuclear power plant. Ten years after 9-11 both the Bush and Obama administrations have failed to do so and have failed to adequately protect the American people.

Jim Riccio

By Jim Riccio

Jim Riccio served as Greenpeace’s Nuclear Policy Analyst from 2001 to 2017 and has over two decades of nuclear activist experience. He has been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, and Boston Globe, and has appeared on ABC News, NBC News, Al Jazeera, CNN, the Discovery Channel and the History Channel.

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