U.S. NRC Blog

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Security and Nuclear Power Plants: Robust and Significant

Robert Lewis
Director of Preparedness and Response

Security of the nation’s commercial nuclear facilities is a critical part of the NRC’s mission. In response to recent media stories about security securityat nuclear power plants, we want to reassure you that U.S. nuclear power plants are adequately protected against potential terrorist attacks. In fact, they are among the best-protected sector of our national infrastructure.

In the decade since the 2001 terrorist attacks, the NRC, and its licensed operators, acted to enhance security at the nation’s nuclear plants. While the plants are secure, robust structures designed and built to withstand a variety of natural and man-made enemies, we ordered additional measures. For example, we strengthened requirements related to physical barriers, access controls, and intrusion detection and surveillance systems, as well as the existing well-trained and armed security officers.

Specific security measures are considered “safeguards information” (a type of unclassified, yet sensitive information) and are not made public, for obvious reasons. The NRC can, however, describe these enhancements in general terms.

Each plant’s security plan is based on a Design Basis Threat, or DBT, set by the NRC. This is the maximum threat a private-sector entity can be expected to defend against. Details of the DBT are not public, but our regulations spell out the types of threats our licensees must prepare for. These include an assault by one or more determined and capable adversary forces attacking by land or water, truck bombs, boat bombs, insider threats and cyber attacks. The NRC requires each plant to test its security force annually, and the NRC also tests the security forces at each plant every three years in a sophisticated force-on-force inspection.

Security doesn’t stop at a plant’s boundary. The NRC requires licensees to coordinate with local law enforcement and emergency responders who can assist in the unlikely event of an attack. The NRC itself continuously coordinates with other federal agencies to assess the current terrorist threat and take whatever actions might be necessary to bolster security at nuclear plants. We work with the Federal Aviation Administration, Department of Homeland Security and North American Aerospace Defense Command to guard against September 11-style air attacks.

A recent report published by the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Project (NPPP) at the University of Texas used non-sensitive “open-source” information to assess the protections in place to counter terrorist threats to nuclear facilities in the United States, including potential threats to commercial nuclear power plants.

As an agency committed to the security of our nation’s nuclear power plants, we welcome recommendations for strengthening our oversight. However, we need to correct the record on two key points made in NPPP’s report. First, both new and existing reactors must mitigate against potential attacks using commercial aircraft; in fact our Aircraft Impact Assessment Rule requires design features for new plants to mitigate the effects of an airplane crash, and the NRC’s post-September 11 orders require existing plants to implement similar mitigating measures. Second, NRC regulations, based upon the DBT, do in fact require licensees to guard against waterborne attacks or explosives.

31 responses to “Security and Nuclear Power Plants: Robust and Significant

  1. Moderator September 4, 2013 at 1:38 pm

    In response to Rich Andrews’ questions:

    The Aircraft Impact Assessment rule only applies to new nuclear power reactor designs. The assessment can either be done as part of the design certification process if the design has not been certified as a rule in the NRC’s regulations, or as part of the licensing process for a new reactor license application using a design that is already certified in the NRC’s regulations. In either case, all new reactors must have performed the aircraft impact assessment before it receives a license to construct the plant. Any improvements to the plant design that may be identified during the assessment would be included with the final reactor design to be certified or licensed.

    The Aircraft Impact Assessment rule does not apply to existing nuclear power reactors. The Commission determined in the AIA rulemaking that existing plants need not comply. However, as part of the Power Reactor Security rulemaking that the NRC promulgated in the 2009, all nuclear power reactors must have strategies for dealing with a loss of large areas of the plant due to fires or explosions. These strategies were originally required by Orders in the months after 9/11. So while existing plants are not covered under the Aircraft Impact Assessment rule, they have taken measures to address the potential consequences of an aircraft impact.

    Dave McIntyre

  2. Rich Andrews September 3, 2013 at 11:42 am

    Regarding the Aircraft Impact Assessment Rule, when are nuclear plants covered by the rule required to:
    1. Complete the analysis &
    2. Implement any necessary improvements?

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