Op-Ed by Karl Grossman
April 4, 2016
That’s what nuclear power plants are. And that’s another very big reason—demonstrated again in recent days with the disclosure that two of the Brussels terrorists were planning attacks on Belgian nuclear plants—why they must be eliminated.
Nuclear power plants are sitting ducks for terrorists. With most positioned along bays and rivers because of their need for massive amounts of coolant water, they provide a clear shot. They are fully exposed for aerial strikes.
The consequences of such an attack could far outweigh the impacts of 9/11 and, according to the U.S. 9/11 Commission, also originally considered in that attack was the use of hijacked planes to attack “unidentified nuclear power plants.” The Indian Point nuclear plants 26 miles north of New York City were believed to be candidates.
As the Belgian newspaper Dernier Heure reported last week, regarding the plan to strike a Belgian nuclear plant, “investigators concluded that the target of terrorists was to ‘jeopardize national security like never before.’”
The Union of Concerned Scientists in a statement on “Nuclear Security” declares:
“Terrorists pose a real and significant threat to nuclear power plants. The 2011 accident at Fukushima was a wake-up call reminding the world of the vulnerability of nuclear power plants to natural disasters such as earthquakes and floods. However, nature is not the only threat to nuclear facilities. They are inviting targets for sabotage and terrorist attack. A successful attack on a nuclear plant could have devastating consequences, killing, sickening or displacing large numbers of residents in the area surrounding the plant, and causing extensive long-time environmental damage.”
A previously arranged “Nuclear Security Summit” is being held this week in Washington, D.C. with representatives of nations from around the world and with a focus on “nuclear terrorism.”
Last week, in advance of the “summit” and in the wake of the Brussels suicide-bombings at the city’s airport and a subway line, Yukiya Amano, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said: “Terrorism is spreading and the possibility of using nuclear material cannot be excluded. Member states need to have sustained interest in strengthening nuclear security. The countries which do not recognize the danger of nuclear terrorism is the biggest problem.”
However, a main mission of the IAEA, ever since it was established by the UN in 1957 has been to promote nuclear power. It has dramatically minimized the consequences of the catastrophic accidents at Chernobyl and Fukushima and routinely understated all problems with atomic technology.
The “Nuclear Security Summit,” with the IAEA playing a central role, is part of a series of gatherings following a speech made by President Barack Obama in Prague in 2009 in which he said “I am announcing a new international effort to secure all vulnerable nuclear material around the world.”
In a press release this past August, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said this week’s meeting “will continue discussion on the evolving [nuclear terrorism] threat and highlight steps that can be taken together to minimize the use of highly-enriched uranium, secure vulnerable materials, counter nuclear smuggling and deter, detect, and disrupt attempts at nuclear terrorism.”
And, like the IAEA—formed as a result of a speech by U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower promoting “Atoms for Peace” at the UN—officials involved with nuclear power in the U.S. government and the nation’s nuclear industry have long pushed atomic energy and downplayed problems about nuclear power and terrorism.
As the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) says in its “Nuclear Security” statement, “The adequacy of a security system depends on what we think we are protecting against. If we have underestimated the threat, we may overestimate our readiness to meet it. The NRC [U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission] has sometimes used unrealistically modest assumptions about potential attackers. The design basis threat (DBT) is the official definition of the security threats power plant management is required to protect against….After 9/11, UCS criticized the DBT for nuclear plants on these grounds, among others.”
UCS says the NRC “ignored the possibility of air-and water-based attacks…it did not address the possibility of large attacking groups using multiple entry points, or of an attack involving multiple insiders…it concentrated on threats to the reactor core, failing to address the vulnerability of spent fuel storage facilities.” Since 2011, says the UCS, the NRC “finally revised its rules to address the threat of aircraft attack for new reactor designsbut at the same time has rejected proposed design changes to protect against water- and land-based attacks.”
There is “also concern about the testing standard used,” notes UCS. “In July 2012, the NRC adopted the new process. However, as a result of industry pressure, the standards were watered down.”
Further, says UCS, testing is “currently required only for operating reactors, leaving questions about the adequacy of protection against attacks on reactors that have shut down, but still contain radioactive materials that could harm the public if damaged.”
A pioneer in addressing how nuclear power plants are pre-deployed weapons of mass destruction has been Dr. Bennett Ramberg. As he wrote in his 1980 landmark book, Nuclear Power Plants as Weapons for the Enemy: An Unrecognized Military Peril, despite the “multiplication of nuclear power plants, little public consideration has been given to their vulnerability in time of war.”
As he writes in a recent piece in Foreign Affairs, “Nuclear Power to the People: The Middle East’s New Gold Rush,” spotlighting the push now by many nations in the Middle East to build nuclear power plants, “Whatever the energy promise of the peaceful atom, evidently lost in the boom are the security risks inherent in setting up reactors in the Middle Eastand not just the commonly voiced fear that reactors are harbingers of weapons. The real risk is the possibility that the plants themselves will become targets or hostages of nihilist Middle East militants, which could result in Chernobyl and Fukushima-like meltdowns.”
“Given the mayhem that Islamic State (also called ISIS) and kindred groups have sown in the region and their end-of-days philosophy, the plausibility of an attempted attack on an operating nuclear power plant cannot be denied,” writes Ramberg.
In fact, the plausibility of an attempted attack cannot be denied in the Middle Eastor anywhere in world.
Says Ramberg: “If terrorists did strike a nuclear power plant in the Middle East, the nuclear fallout would depend on the integrity of reactors’ own containment systems and the ability of emergency personnel to suppress the emissions, a difficult challenge for even the most advanced countries, as Japan found in Fukushima. Ongoing terrorism, civil strife, or war at the time the reactor is compromised would only complicate matters.”
Moreover, he notes, “all nations in the Middle East share an increasingly practical alternative solar energy.”
Nations around the world, likewise, would be able to get along fine with solar, wind and differing mixes of other safe, clean, renewable energy not susceptible to terrorist attack.
All 438 nuclear power plants around the world today could — and should — close now. The insignificant amount of electricity they generate — about 10 percent of total electricity used — can be provided by other sources.
And green energy makes for a less costly power and a far safer world in comparison to catastrophic-danger prone and unnecessary nuclear power. We must welcome energy we can live with and reject power that presents a deadly threat in so many ways.