In the wake of another nerve-wracking outage at a Russian-held Ukrainian nuclear energy facility this week, 90 groups and dozens of individuals wrote to U.S. President Joe Biden expressing "grave concerns regarding security at U.S. nuclear power plants."
"We commend and wholeheartedly support your administration's much-needed efforts to make nuclear plants in the Ukraine war zone more secure in the face of daunting political and military challenges," states the letter, spearheaded by Nuclear Energy Information Service (NEIS) and sent to the White House Wednesday. "This work protects not only Ukraine but the entire planet."
"Our concern is that the security of U.S. nuclear power plants does not seem to be receiving a commensurate amount of attention, neither from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), nor the administration," the coalition explained. "Worse, your administration is also seeking to expand the nuclear industry in dangerous ways that compound nuclear plant security threats."
"Attacks on nuclear facilities and other external dangers they face are credible threats and could happen here."
While the letter argues that given the associated security threats, "federal funding should prioritize scaling up renewables, storage, efficiency, and transmission upgrades, so as to phase out nuclear power as quickly as possible," it also calls for immediate action.
"Nuclear plant security MUST begin at home," the groups declared, urging the U.S. government to "learn the lesson" from Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) since Russian forces invaded Ukraine early last year—that "attacks on nuclear facilities and other external dangers they face are credible threats and could happen here."
"The recent catastrophic train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, and the crash of two Boeing 737 Max jets demonstrate the real-world consequences of inadequate or capriciously enforced safety regulation and oversight," the organizations asserted. "We can't add radiological releases from U.S. nuclear plants to this list."
The coalition also sent the president a separate document detailing security concerns and recommendations for U.S. facilities, but the letter highlights the top takeaways:
- The 92 operating reactors and 19 reactors in various stages of decommissioning in the U.S. are vulnerable to sabotage, terrorism, cyberattack, dam breaches, and other threats of a deliberate nature.
- Shipments of spent nuclear fuel to consolidated interim storage facilities (CISFs) are similarly vulnerable.
- NRC nuclear plant security policy is reactive rather than proactive, leaving it up to licensees. The NRC also takes a "hands-off" approach to securing spent nuclear fuel.
- Independent analysis shows this approach has failed, and that as a result, U.S. nuclear plants are not secure.
The coalition is calling on the Biden administration to enforce "enhanced, mandatory security measures for existing nuclear facilities and spent nuclear fuel to make them less vulnerable to attack," at the cost of licensees, not U.S. taxpayers.
The groups' recommendations include changes to storage policies. The letter says that "instead of transporting it to proposed CISFs, most spent nuclear fuel should be stored at reactor sites using hardened onsite storage (HOSS)."
In a statement, Kevin Kamps—a radioactive waste specialist with Beyond Nuclear, which signed the letter to Biden—took aim at Holtec International, a U.S.-based company that owns a proposed New Mexico CISF, has handled spent fuel in Ukraine, and recently signed a contract to deploy small modular nuclear reactors in the war-torn country.
"Holtec's performance in handling spent fuel has been abysmal in Ukraine and similarly abysmal in the United States," said Kamps. "That's one illustration among others that the problem is not limited to Ukraine, and that U.S. nuclear plants are subject to security threats we need to start addressing."
NEIS director Dave Kraft asked, "What sense does it make to send tens of millions of dollars to Ukraine to enhance security and safety, when our own 92 operating reactors and 90,000 tons of high-level radioactive wastes are not secure?"
"What sense does it make to sprinkle the next-generation micro- and mini-nuke reactors around the nation and the world, boasting they can be mobile on flatbed trucks or housed in factories or Walmarts, when it is daily demonstrated that silent drones are capable of turning heavily armored tanks and military vehicles into shredded heaps of burning metal?" he added. "This is the real world nuclear power now exists in, and this administration is not prepared to provide the safety and security necessary for it to survive."
On Monday, for the seventh time since the Russians took control of ZNPP last year, Europe's largest nuclear facility was fully disconnected from Ukraine's electricity grid and had to rely on backup diesel generators. The outage lasted over five hours.
Reutersreported that a "Russia-installed local official said Ukraine had disconnected a power line and Ukrainian state nuclear energy company Energoatom said the problem was caused by Russian shelling."
Rafael Mariano Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said Monday's incident "demonstrates the highly vulnerable nuclear safety and security situation" at the facility and reiterated that "this simply can't go on."
"We're playing with fire. We must act now to avoid the very real danger of a nuclear accident in Europe, with its associated consequences for the public and the environment," he added. "I'm continuing to engage in intense negotiations with all the involved parties to secure the protection of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. I will not stop until this has been achieved."