(NaturalNews) The majority of Americans do not live near a nuclear power plant, but that doesn't mean they are safe from any fallout should one be damaged or destroyed. With that in mind, a new report suggests that America's 107 nuclear power facilities are extremely vulnerable to terrorism.
In fact, according to the report by the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Project, none of the country's facilities "are protected against a high force terrorist attack, and some are still vulnerable to the theft of bomb-grade nuclear fuel, or sabotage intended to cause a nuclear meltdown," CNN said.
NPPP, which is located at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas in Austin says it is attempting to shine light on major security gaps that are still present nearly 12 years after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
"It would be a tragedy if the United States had to look back after such an attack on a nuclear reactor and say that we could have and should have done more to prevent the catastrophe," said Prof. Alan J. Kuperman, co-author of the report.
NRC: Nothing to see here
The study was performed at the request of the Department of Defense following the commissioning of an academic study by the Pentagon which focused on security lapses and vulnerabilities at all 104 nuclear power plants and three civilian research reactors.
Not surprisingly, the agency charged with regulating nuclear facilities disagreed with the findings in the report, titled "Protecting U.S. Nuclear Facilities from Terrorist Attack: Re-assessing the Current 'Design Basis Threat' Approach."
"The report released today by the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Project is a rehash of arguments from a decade ago when the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the country were reconsidering nuclear power plant security in the wake of the September 11 attacks," said David McIntyre, a spokesman with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, in a statement.
"The report contains no new information or insight. The NRC has strengthened security requirements for commercial nuclear power plants and remains confident that these important facilities are adequately protected," he added.
Some of the security inadequacies cited by the NPPP include a dearth of regulations protecting facilities against shipborne attacks at reactors located near the coasts of California, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina and Virginia.
The NRC, along with the Energy and Defense Departments, all follow a form of Design Basis Threat (DBT) analysis in implementing physical security plans at each of the country's nuclear plants and facilities.
That said, the NPPP report notes that while some security upgrades to DBT scenarios have been made since the 9/11 attacks, they still fall short because they tend to account for a scenario involving an attack by only about five or six people.
Focus also on insiders
"Another serious terrorism danger is posed by three civilian research reactors that are fueled with bomb-grade uranium, which is vulnerable to theft to make nuclear weapons," says a summary of the report. "These facilities are not defended against a posited terrorist threat, unlike military facilities that hold the same material."
Those facilities are located at the University of Missouri in Columbia; the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge; "and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which is located just two dozen miles from the White House in the Washington, D.C./Baltimore suburb of Gaithersburg," the summary said.
"Less than two dozen miles from the White House and Capitol Hill, a nuclear reactor contains bomb-grade uranium but is not required to protect against even lesser 'design basis threat' of terrorism," Kuperman said. "It would be the height of irresponsibility to fail to take action now."
The report's authors also recommended that more attention be paid to the potential of insiders working at nuclear facilities and the roles they could play in either assisting with an attack or with sabotage. Any security upgrades should keep those scenarios in mind, the report said.
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