Perhaps most alarming is the fact that current NRC standards require commercial reactors to be able to defend themselves against attack by a group of approximately five or six terrorists. The report finds that insufficient, especially since on 9/11 there were 19 attackers.
Specifically, the report cites an example of possible consequences of a hypothetical attack at a power plant 35 miles from New York City. Such an attack could result in 44,000 short-term deaths and 500,000 long-term deaths from radiation, and an estimated economic impact of $2 trillion.
“If there’s a fire after an attack like that it could take out essentially New York City or the western third of Connecticut,” said Peter Stockton, a senior investigator for the Project on Government Oversight (POGO). “But DBT is cost based, and the cost is always deemed too high to strengthen the security at these plants.”
The 9/11 Commission discovered that al Qaida had considered targeting a nuclear power reactor, but later changed its plans.
Predictably, the NRC has a different opinion.
“The NRC has added numerous requirements in the wake of 9/11 to increase security at the plants,” said Scott Burnell, an NRC spokesperson. “Specifically, one of the requirements was for every operating nuclear power plant to put in place additional resources and methods for dealing with large fires and explosions of any cause so that they can maintain key safety functions even after such an event and these features have been repeatedly inspected by the NRC.”
But the new report reveals NRC-licensed research and test reactors are not required to protect against the DBT. Only power reactors must be protected, even though there is a risk of theft of nuclear materials at the other facilities.
“Less than two dozen miles from the White House and Capitol Hill, a nuclear reactor contains bomb-grade uranium, but it is not required to protect against even the lesser 'design basis threat' of terrorism," said Kuperman. “We know where the weak spots are when it comes to nuclear facilities, so it would be the height of irresponsibility to fail to take action now.”
The report recommends that the NRC upgrade its DBT to a level “sufficient to defend against a maximum credible terrorist attack.”