WASHINGTON - June 22 - With the 9/11 commission and its witnesses divulging last Wednesday that additional air-based terrorist attacks have already been attempted, that more major attacks are likely in the near future, and that nuclear power plants are top al-Qaeda targets, scientists and watchdog groups from across the U.S. today repeated their demand that the Bush Administration immediately order measures to reduce the risk of a catastrophic radiation release at power plants.
The 9/11 commission staff reported Wednesday that unidentified nuclear power plants were among the ten targets originally planned for attack on Sept. 11. In startling testimony before the commission Wednesday, two CIA officials claimed the agency has thwarted several al-Qaeda attacks since Sept. 11, 2001, and one said, I think we've probably prevented a few aviation attacks against both the East and West coasts.
Groups from the Northeast to the West coast to the South today pointed to the latest revelations as validation of their years-long call for security upgrades, including hardening the storage of spent fuel rods. Added to Wednesdays disclosures is the increasing consensus among independent technical experts that nuclear plants are poorly defended against various types of air attacks including small planes loaded with explosives and small, determined teams of ground level attackers.
Since the late 1990s, reactor watchdogs and experts have warned that pools filled with highly radioactive used fuel rods are highly vulnerable to acts of malice, and that a loss of cooling water could lead to an unprecedented release of radiation into the atmosphere. Since September 11, activists have been joined by bipartisan elected officials in criticizing the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission for engaging in a public relations campaign rather than taking meaningful actions to enhance plant security and defend reactor sites from a post-9/11 attack. The NRC has even refused to consider terrorism when considering licensing challenges in California and the Northeast.
Importantly, one of Wednesdays counter-terrorism witnesses stated clearly that hardening critical targets is a proven tactic in deterring attacks testimony with clear implications for reactor sites and irradiated fuel.
Where is the Bush administration on this important issue? said Rochelle Becker of Mothers for Peace in California, whose group is suing the NRC to force it to consider terrorism in licensing decisions. The threat is real and yet the President has not demanded that nuclear power plants and high-level radioactive waste sites be protected to the extent possible. There is no doubt nuclear plants must STILL be considered potential targets, and we know how to greatly reduce the risks, but are being ignored by the NRC. Her group is leading a national call for a Senate Oversight hearing on the NRCs negligence regarding terrorism.
Former Rep. Lee Hamilton said during Wednesdays hearing that "we have almost no information with regard to their [al Qaeda] capabilities in the United States," a statement confirmed by an FBI counter-terrorism witness. Last month, British researchers concluded that the terrorist organization is well financed, well populated and decentralized. One of the CIAs witnesses told the commission that al-Qaeda is is moving an attack forward using what capabilities it has left to attack the homeland in the next few months.
In October 2002, 27 state attorneys general warned Congress: the consequences of a catastrophic attack against a nuclear power plant are simply incalculable
urgent steps must be taken
[to] enhance protections for one of the most vulnerable components of a nuclear power plant its spent fuel pools. Yet the NRC remains frozen.
Dr. Gordon Thompson has long argued that the comparative consequences of attack on a nuclear plant are unparalleled in their potential for widespread social and economic devastation. He was joined last year by researchers from Princeton, MIT and other institutions in calling for feasible measures to deter attack:
· overcrowded highly radioactive spent fuel pools should be returned to the original low-density configuration reducing the chances of a spent fuel pool fire by 80%;
· all older waste assemblies should be stored in hardened, high grade casks (currently licensed casks have varying quality and are only licensed for 20 years, but could remain onsite for decades);
· nuclear waste casks should be separated from each other, and further secured by berms or bunkers.
Even if a proposed national repository at Yucca Mountain were to open by 2015, and thats a big IF, nuclear spent fuel waste will remain onsite over the next three decades, and possibly longer if plants like Indian Point are relicensed, said Kyle Rabin of Riverkeeper, which is advocating for more robust spent fuel storage at the Indian Point nuclear power plant, 24 miles north of New York City. The Department of Energys proposed shipment schedule will span decades as the waste is gradually transported from Indian Point out to Yucca, said Rabin. In the interim we need to better secure Indian Points spent fuel storage systems.
He added that millions of Americans are at risk from a terrorist attack at various nuclear facilities. Few enhancements to security have been required at U.S. plants, and the few that have been made are solely the result of industry input. The Bush administration has barred independent security experts, state and local emergency personnel from providing important input that could create the defense-in-depth needed to reduce risks.
As the National Research Council readies a classified report to Congress, due within weeks, on its findings regarding spent fuel storage safety, the nuclear power industry has continued its public relations effort by claiming that the nations spent fuel pools would not necessarily burn if attacked.
Nuclear reactors are predeployed weapons of mass destruction. An attack on a reactors fuel pool could lead to the release of millions of curies of toxic radioactive waste that would create a regional catastrophe leaving thousands of miles uninhabitable for decades, said Deb Katz executive director of Citizens Awareness Network, a regional group located in the Northeast. CAN commissioned a report by Dr. Thompson on the vulnerability of fuel pool storage. It is intolerable that reactor communities have to live with a terrorist target in their midst; fearful for their children and their communities. The risk is unacceptable.
Citizens Awareness Network · Riverkeeper · Mothers for Peace · NC WARN