Preventing nuclear terrorism is vital, but the real safety solution would be to shutter all US nuclear facilities.
This week, a new report commissioned by the Pentagon looking at the vulnerability of US nuclear facilities across the country found that—more than a decade after 9/11 and repeated warnings regarding safety—little has been done to secure the sites from sabotage or attack.
According to nuclear expert and professor of journalism Karl Grossman, however, the report's findings—though troubling—largely fail to address the fact these nuclear facilities are inherently dangerous. Though more could, and should, be done to protect them from the possibility of attack, the reality is that most US nuclear facilities are simply "sitting ducks" when it comes to an intentional assault and breed danger by their very existence.
"Beyond everything else," said Grossman in an email exchange with Common Dreams, their vulnerability to terrorist attack make nuclear power plants "a collosal threat to life."
According to McClatchy's coverage of the report, which was prepared by the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Project at the University of Texas at Austin, researchers found "that the current security required of civilian-operated reactors fails to safeguard against airplane attacks, rocket-propelled grenades and more than a small handful of attackers."
Prof. Alan J. Kuperman, who co-authored the study, told reporters on a press call this week that of the "104 nuclear power reactors and three research reactors [in the US], none are protected against a 9/11-style terrorist attack,” a fact featured prominently in the report.
This led Grossman to call such nuclear facilities "pre-positioned weapons of mass destruction." He continued:
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American Airlines Flight 11 flew over the Indian Point nuclear plant on its way to the World Trade Center on 9/11. If the terrorists in control of that airplane had decided instead to hit the plants and their spent fuel pools, it wouldn't have been 3,000 people who died but 300,000 or a million or more.
Some 20 million people live within 50 miles of the Indian Point plant, just north of New York City.
Terrorists, and I am not telling any tale out of school, need only take a trip in a boat up the Hudson River to hit Indian Point from the water, or a boat out on the Long Island Sound to strike the Millstone nuclear power plants on the shore just west of New London, Connecticut, from the water.
However, what's important to note beyond these dangers, according to Grossman, is how wholly unnecessary the risks are. Given the nuclear disasters triggered by unintentional causes at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima, the dangers of atomic energy exists with or without the threat from terrorists or sabotage.
Moreover, a solution to the risk exists.
"There's an alternative for us here and now," argues Grossman, citing safe, clean, and renewable energy led by solar and wind power.
"There would be no serious consequences if a terrorist attacked a solar array or a wind turbine. But if they hit a nuclear power plant, and this will, most unfortunately, inevitably happen unless every nuclear power plant is shut down and our energy is generated by safe and clean technologies, the consequence would be catastrophic."