Nearly three-quarters of the nation's nuclear power plant
operators are behind schedule on new federally mandated security
upgrades, mostly dealing with truck bombs, according to the Nuclear
Truck bombs are one of the most commonly used and easiest to
obtain terrorist weapons, and anxiety about them has grown since
Sept. 11. That worry appears to be behind many security upgrades
ordered in February by the commission, which governs nuclear
The orders included preparing a detailed analysis on the
vulnerability and consequences of a truck bomb attack, commission
spokesman Victor Dricks said Thursday.
The power plants do not publicly disclose why they need more
time, but Dricks said nearly 90 percent that say they can't make
their deadlines are having problems with the truck bomb
Dricks confirmed that operators at 47 of the 64 clusters of
nuclear power plant sites asked for a deadline extension on the new
orders. There are 103 operating power plants clustered in 64 sites
The need for extensions doesn't mean a truck bomb threat is
imminent, and generally plants are ahead of schedule on upgrades.
They include more security guard patrols, additional security posts,
additional security barriers, vehicle inspection points further from
the cores of the power plants and improved coordination with
government law enforcement.
In a closed hearing Thursday, a House subcommittee asked Nuclear
Regulatory Commission officials about security and truck bomb
planning. While industry plans are delayed, "I'm not upset that
there's any lack of commitment," subcommittee chairman James
Greenwood, R-Penn., told Knight Ridder afterwards. "It's just a
question of a very technical matter to provide the NRC with the
information it needs."
"I think Americans can feel pretty darn secure that their nuclear
power plants are not going to be compromised by terrorists,"
Nonetheless, plants that aren't secure against truck bombs aren't
as safe as operators have been saying, claimed Edward Lyman, the
scientific director of the anti-nuclear organization Nuclear Control
Institute of Washington.
"They can't assert they are fully protected about whatever new
threat is out there if they haven't even done the analysis to assert
that they are protected from vehicle bombs," Lyman said. "If they're
delaying providing a schedule for two or three months ... then how
are they going to get contracts in place to do work to build vehicle
barriers or additional protection?"
But Ann Mary Carley, a spokeswoman for Exelon Generation of
Warrenville, Ill., which operates 17 nuclear power plants, said her
company needed a delay so "that when we evaluate what needs to be
done, we're doing what is actually going to protect us."
Even if a truck bomb went off, it is unlikely to cause the
runaway type of nuclear catastrophe that many people fear, said
Harold Denton, a retired reactor regulation chief for the Nuclear
Regulatory Commission. He oversaw the commission's response to the
Three Mile Island nuclear plant accident in March 1979 and was the
first American official to visit the site of the April 1986
Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
A truck bomb attack might be bad, "but it doesn't lead to
Chernobyl," Denton said.
The greatest worry is that the explosion would knock out power
required to run pumps that bring in water to cool the nuclear
material, Denton said. If the power went out, control rods would
stop the nuclear reaction within a matter of seconds, but it could
take weeks of electric power and water pumping to cool all the
nuclear material to safe levels, he said.
Still, almost every power plant has enough backup power
batteries, generators, steam turbines to provide at least eight
hours of cooling before additional help could come, Denton said.
Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, U.S. intelligence and law
enforcement officials have identified several potential threats to
nuclear power plants.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission asked for 1,950 "interim
corrective measures" at the nation's nuclear power plants last
February with a variety of deadlines that all led up to a final
deadline of Aug. 31.
Plant operators requested a deadline extension for about 65
specific measures, Dricks said. He predicted that all but three or
four nuclear power plant operators would meet the deadline.
Steve Kerekes, spokesman for the Nuclear Energy Institute, a
Washington, D.C., organization consisting of nuclear power plant
operators and suppliers, said most of the security measures are
already in place.
"We were well defended on Sept. 10 and we are even better
defended today," Kerekes said.
The following clusters of power plants have asked for deadline
extensions for security upgrades:
Beaver Valley of McCandless, Penn.; Calvert Cliffs of Calvert
Cliffs, Md.; James A. Fitzpatrick of Oswego, N.Y.; Limerick, west of
Philadelphia; Milestone of New London, Conn.; Nine Mile Point of
Oswego, N.Y.; Oyster Creek of Toms River, N.J.; Peach Bottom of
Lancaster, Penn.; Ginna of Rochester, N.Y.; Seabrook, south of
Portsmouth, N.H.; Susquehanna of Berwick, Pa.; Three Mile Island of
Harrisburg, Pa.; and Vermont Yankee of Battleboro, Vt.
Browns Ferry of Decatur, Ala.; Catawba of Rock Hill, S.C.; Edwin
Hatch of Baxley, Ga.; Joseph M. Farley of Dothan, Ala.; McGuire,
south of Charlotte, N.C.; North Anna of Richmond, Va.; Oconee of
Greenville, S.C.; Sequoyah of Chattanooga, Tenn.; St. Lucie of Fort
Pierce, Fla.; Turkey Point of Miami; Summer, northwest of Columbia,
S.C.; Vogtle, southest of Augusta, Ga.; and Watts Bar of Spring
Byron of Rockford, Ill; Clinton of Clinton, Ill.; Davis-Besse,
southeast of Toledo, Ohio; Donald C. Cook of Benton Harbor, Mich.;
Dresden of Morris, Ill.; LaSalle of Ottawa, Ill.; Perry of
Painesville, Ohio; and Quad Cities, northeast of Moline, Ill.
Arkansas of Russellville, Ark; Callaway of Fulton, Mo.; Comanche
Peak of Glen Rose, Texas; Diablo Canyon, west of San Luis Obispo,
Calif.; Fort Calhoun of Omaha, Neb.; Grand Gulf of Vicksburg, Miss.;
Palo Verde, west of Phoenix; River Bend, north of Baton Rouge, La.;
San Onofre of San Clemente, Calif.; South Texas Project, south of
Bay City, Texas; Waterford, west of New Orleans, and Wolf Creek of
The following clusters of power plants did not ask for deadline
extensions for security upgrades: Hope Creek of Wilmington, Del.;
Indian Point, north of New York City; Pilgrim of Plymouth, Mass.;
Salem of Wilmington, Del.; Brunswick of Southport, N.C.; Crystal
River of Crystal River, Fla.; H.B. Robinson of Vicksburg, Miss.;
Shearon Harris of Raleigh, N.C.; Fermi, north of Toledo, Ohio;
Columbia of Richland, Wis.; and Cooper of Nebraska City, Neb.
The following cluster of power plants weren't quite clear about a
deadline extension in their public letters but don't seem to be
asking for an extension: Duane Arnold of Cedar Rapids, Iowa;
Kewaunee, east of Green Bay, Wis.; Monticello, northwest of
Minneapolis; Palisades of South Haven, Mich.; Point Beach of
Manitowoc, Wis.; and Prairie Island, southeast of Minneapolis.
2002, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information