U.S. Nuclear Reactors Are Safer Than You Think

U.S. nuclear power plants are not adequately protected to defend themselves against terrorist attacks, according to the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Project (NPPP) at the University of Texas. The NPPP report also stated that plants do not have sufficient security to prevent theft of bomb-grade materials that could be used to make weapons.

According to the report, attacks could take place not only at reactors, but also at spent waste pools (where water drainage could lead to dangerous radioactivity), or water sources. 

However, the report is based only off of an analysis of power plant security facilities, and does not take into account broader homeland security and terrorism prevention methods. The scenarios addressed by the report in this respect are highly speculative as well as improbable. 

It is highly unlikely that people would attempt to steal bomb-grade materials in the first place  it’s extremely dangerous — but if they did, their chances of not only escaping but also successfully building weapons with the materials is highly improbable. It’s also unrealistic for the government to provide exceptional security to the 107 nuclear reactors in the U.S.

Although the Pentagon had requested the report, a U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) spokesman said, “The report contains no new information or insight,” because the agency along with the government had already strengthened security after 9/11. He added that he was confident that the plants were adequately protected.

Given the government’s meticulous intelligence collection and security efforts to keep track of suspected terrorist activities, another 9/11 type of attack is highly improbable. Since 9/11, security officials have successfully stopped 16 attempted terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. There have been exceptions  Fort Hood and the Boston bombings were tragic, but drastically smaller in scale, both in the number of terrorists involved and the number of deaths, compared to 9/11.

If 107 nuclear power plants require intense security to protect against 9/11-style attacks, then so do sports stadiums, military bases and complexes, and large and vulnerable buildings. This would be logistically implausible.

Nuclear power is an efficient substitute, among others, to reducing the dependency for energy on non-renewable sources. If managed properly (where incidents such as a Fukushima) are prevented, it can prove to be a viable asset for the U.S. economy. The government should focus their energy on operational security that guards against Fukushima-style leaks rather than on preventing a highly improbable 9/11 type of attack.

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Shahab Ahmad

Undergraduate Political Science student at LUMS, Pakistan. Interested in anything and everything related to foreign policy and international relations.

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