Despite a recommendation from Congress, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) voted today not to upgrade security measures at the nation's nuclear power plants to protect against a 9/11-style attack from hijacked aircrafts.
The NRC ruled today that while the threat of an attack by air is real, it is not the NRC's responsibility to protect the plants. The commission said that military weapons would be required in order to protect the plants, and thus "the airborne threat is one that is beyond what a private security force can reasonably be expected to defend against."
Instead, the NRC voted to continue working on "mitigative measures" requiring plants to enforce measures to limit any radioactive spread and other effects in the event of an air attack.
THE BLOTTER RECOMMENDS
Captured al Qaeda leader Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, as described in the 9/11 Commission Report, had grandiose plans to attack nuclear power plants with hijacked airplanes.
Based on this threat, Congress directed the NRC in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to upgrade security regulations and to take into account numerous factors, including a 9/11-style attack and attacks by large groups or aircrafts.
Last week, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., Chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, wrote to NRC Chairman Dale Klein, saying the NRC "must ensure that the security of nuclear plants is enhanced" to be consistent with post-9/11 threats. Boxer said today, "I am reviewing the final rule in detail and will be prepared to hold the NRC's feet to the fire to ensure that our communities are adequately protected."
Nuclear watchdog groups agree.
"Rather than upgrading protections, the proposed rule merely codifies the status quo, reaffirming the existing, woefully inadequate security measures already in place at the nation's reactors," said Daniel Hirsch, president of the Committee to Bridge the Gap.
The chairman of the NRC said today that this rule is only one in a series of actions aimed at increasing security.
"This rule is an important piece, but only one piece, of a broader effort to enhance nuclear power plant security," said NRC Chairman Dale Klein. "Overall, we are taking a multi-faceted approach to security enhancements in this post-9/11 threat environment and looking at how best to secure existing nuclear power plants and how to incorporate security enhancements into design features of new reactors that may be built in coming years."