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16 November 2004

U.S. Nuclear Agency Works to Strengthen Nuclear Plant Security

Nuclear Regulatory Commission reports on post-9/11 improvements

Washington -- The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has been conducting a comprehensive programs to strengthen U.S. nuclear power facility defenses since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, according to a recent report.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is an independent agency established by the Energy Reorganization Act of 1974 to regulate civilian use of nuclear materials. A five-member commission heads it.

The report -- "Protecting Our Nation Since 9-11-01" -- outlines actions the NRC has taken to protect the nation since the terrorists attacks of 2001. The actions include significant reinforcement of the defense capabilities for nuclear facilities, better control of sensitive information, and enhancement of emergency preparedness to further strengthen NRC's nuclear facility security programs. The report offers background information on the history of security at the NRC and nuclear power plants, including spent-fuel storage and transportation, research and test reactors, international safeguards and security, interagency exercises and emergency preparedness and response to terrorist attacks.

Even before the terrorist attacks, the physical security of nuclear power facilities, regarded as a part of the U.S. critical infrastructure, was a priority for NRC, according to the report. That security consisted of "physical barriers, armed guards, intrusion detection systems, area surveillance systems, access controls, and access authorization requirements for employees working inside the plants," the report said.

Major actions the NRC has taken since 9/11, according to the report, include:

-- Ordering nuclear plant owners to strengthen physical security, including requiring vehicles to be stopped and checked at greater distance from the facilities;

-- Requiring strict access controls for personnel;

-- Improving liaison with federal, state and local entities responsible for protecting critical infrastructure through "integrated response planning;"

-- Improving liaison and communication with intelligence agencies;

-- Improving communication between NRC license holders and military surveillance authorities to prepare for safe shutdown of power plants if necessary;

-- Requiring plant owners to improve response capability to explosions or fires at plants; and

-- Augmenting training and qualification programs for plant security forces, including enhanced field-training exercises to test plant capabilities to deter attack.

In addition, the report says, the NRC has worked with national experts to estimate realistically the effect of terrorist attacks on nuclear facilities -- including an attack using a large commercial jetliner. For those facilities analyzed, results show that the likelihood of both damaging the nuclear reactor core and causing the release of radiation is low. Even if the attack caused the release of radioactivity, says the report, there would be time to implement mitigating actions.

Nuclear Security Report