December 21, 2000
The Honorable Richard A. Meserve
U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Dear Chairman Meserve:
We are writing to you in reference to a very serious issue which was discussed at a December 13 public meeting on the NRC's reactor safeguards inspection program.
At this meeting, it was stated that the Commission is soon to vote on the question of whether enforcement actions pursuant to 10 CFR 73.55(a) should be required if serious deficiencies in nuclear power plant physical protection systems are revealed during force-on-force exercises conducted under the current Operational Safeguards Response Evaluation (OSRE) program. The alternative being put forward is a suspension of enforcement actions based on OSRE findings until the rulemaking to rewrite 10 CFR 73.55 is completed, which will not occur until the end of 2002 under current projections.
As a public interest organization concerned with the threat of domestic terrorism, the Nuclear Control Institute (NCI) has long maintained that OSRE failures signify violations of 10 CFR 73.55(a) and are therefore subject to enforcement actions. In a public meeting on May 5, 1999, NCI counsel Eldon Greenberg argued before the Commission that the existing regulations "create an enforceable obligation to provide protection in fact against the design basis threat." Since that hearing, NCI has been encouraged by recent NRC actions that appeared to indicate that the Commission shares this view, such as the August 4, 2000 Confirmatory Order issued to Entergy Operations, Inc. in response to a poor OSRE performance at Waterford 3.
We believe that it would be highly imprudent for the Commission to reverse course now and relinquish, for a two-year period, an essential tool for ensuring that nuclear plant licensees are capable of defending their plants against radiological sabotage. A Commission vote to suspend enforcement under OSRE would send a clear message to the public, and particularly to potential terrorists, that licensees will be free to reduce security plan commitments and associated costs to minimum levels, without fear of NRC enforcement if these measures are demonstrated to provide inadequate protection from attack. The negative publicity that will surely follow such a decision will be a huge setback to the NRC's performance goal of "increasing public confidence" --- as was the misguided staff decision to cancel the OSRE program in 1998, which had to be reversed by the Chairman.
The Commission also should act to ensure that the physical protection significance determination process (PPSDP) to be used in enforcement based on OSRE findings is technically rigorous and yields results that are commensurate with the increase in core damage frequency associated with the damage to safety systems achieved by mock attackers. The loss of an entire target set is by definition extremely risk-significant, and any scheme that does not associate this outcome with the highest level of severity should be rejected. Fortuitous operator actions and equipment not specified in the security plan should not be used to ratchet down the significance of the loss of a target set.
It is noteworthy that at a time when concerns about the sophistication and lethality of terrorist attacks are increasing in the wake of the U.S.S. Cole bombing, the NRC's reactor safeguards inspection program is undergoing a transition to an industry-run "self-assessment" program that is perceived by many who monitor the Commission's activities to involve a weakening of nuclear plant security requirements. Thus, the need has never been greater for an unambiguous statement by the Commission that it takes the threat of radiological sabotage seriously and is willing, if necessary, to compel nuclear plant licensees to provide adequate resources to defend their plants against attack.
The only effective mechanism to accomplish this objective is to utilize force-on-force exercises to uncover weaknesses, and to demonstrate through enforcement actions that weaknesses will not be tolerated and must be promptly corrected. To allow enforcement of 10 CFR 73.55(a) to lapse for two years will only create a public perception that the Commission is more interested in protecting licensees from embarrassment and additional costs than in protecting the public from radiological sabotage. This is the wrong signal to send to potential adversaries.
We look forward to receiving your prompt reply. Thank you for your attention.
Edwin S. Lyman, PhD Paul Leventhal
Scientific Director President
cc: Commissioner Dicus
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