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Special Report

Industry hopes its centralized assets aren't in the crosshairs.
Fortnightly Magazine - November 1 2001

been minimal cases of domestic terrorist incidents.

The Y2K preparations were "a very good exercise," NERC's media relations manager Ellen Vancko says. "A lot of that coordination is still in place."

Airliners vs. Nukes

For utilities that operate nuclear plants, industry officials have said there may be no defense against the kind of attacks that occurred Sept. 11. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) said that nuclear power plants have "robust containment buildings" designed to withstand extreme events such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes.

"However, the NRC did not specifically contemplate attacks by aircraft such as Boeing 757s or 767s and nuclear power plants were not designed to withstand such crashes," the NRC said in a statement. "Detailed engineering analyses of a large airliner crash have not yet been performed."

The NRC did assure that an airliner crash into a nuclear plant, spent fuel dry storage cask, or spent fuel transportation cask would not trigger a nuclear explosion. Regulators also require nuclear plant licensees to implement security programs that include well-armed civilian guard forces and physical barriers.

The Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), a lobbyist for the nuclear industry, commented after the attacks that reactor containment buildings are designed to withstand the impact of airborne objects up to a certain force. "Design requirements with respect to aircraft impacts are specific to each facility," NEI says.

Entergy, operator of nine nuclear reactors in its South and Northeast divisions, responded immediately to the potential threat by limiting access at certain nuclear plant facilities to only one highway checkpoint instead of multiple entrances to the plants. While security is always tight, Entergy now is inspecting all packages, however harmless appearing, that enter its nuclear facilities.

As for those who fear nuclear plants would pose a grave danger if targeted by an airliner, "We are not speculating on 'what if?' scenarios because it could expose particular vulnerabilities," Entergy's Diane Park, manager of corporate communications for Entergy Nuclear South, says.

Entergy also trusts the attacks will not soften President Bush's commitment to keeping nuclear power a viable part of the energy supply mix. "Do we stop building skyscrapers because of the threat?" Park asks.

Lessons Learned at Ground Zero

During EEI's task force meeting, Eugene McGrath, chairman, president, and chief executive of Consolidated Edison of New York-the electric utility at ground zero of the World Trade Center attack, which has worked continuously to rewire large portions of lower Manhattan-strongly urged other utility companies to test emergency plans in their own communities, advice that was readily heeded by fellow utility executives, EEI's Brady says.

Con Edison was fortunate because it had redundant communication systems, such as its cache of BlackBerry mobile email systems that allowed it to overcome the disruption in telephone and mobile phone usage in New York City. The utility also had trained emergency staffers who were able to begin repair work immediately on damaged infrastructure in the ground zero area because they had a supply of respirator suits for its employees to wear.

As director of the energy industry's overall efforts, the Department of Energy has been