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News Analysis

State public service commissions are insisting that utilities adopt risk management programs, and are allowing less pass-through for those that don't.
Fortnightly Magazine - June 15 2002

at a given site, you may not need $20 million worth of technology," he reasons.

To a great degree, threat levels are distinctly high for nuclear generators, so the level of technology employed by those operators is expected to exceed that employed at other electric utility sites. "I don't see a carry-over of the level of technology being employed by the nuclear utilities to general electric generators, but the depth will continue to increase among the latter, as well," says Miller.

Nuclear Reactors Draw Security Bead

The security practices and technology employed at the 103 nuclear power plants in the United States have drawn more attention than fossil-fuel generators since 9/11. While the NRC long has been known for its tough standards on security, "The NRC does not know what its licensees spend on security or how many security guards are employed at each reactor," Markey contends.

Although many of the country's nuclear reactors are close to population centers, only TMI-1 was built to withstand the impact of a sizable commercial aircraft, according to Markey. The precaution at TMI was due to the proximity of the Harrisburg airport, about three miles away, because of which an accidental crash scenario was considered in the engineering design of the twin plants, says DeSantis.

The fear that a commercial aircraft could penetrate a reactor building and cause the release of a radioactive plume has fueled an intense debate in Congress over where the industry-government line should be drawn in terms of who provides security for the reactors. Markey is among federal officials advocating a federal takeover of security at nuclear plants. Even though the NRC coordinates physical drills to test security at the nuclear plants, Markey warns that "security exercises at nuclear reactor sites are inadequate, and sites continue to fail the exercises about 50 percent of the time."

A study initiated in mid-November by Markey surmised that security at U.S. reactors under the supervision of the NRC is lacking. He reports: "Twenty-one U.S. nuclear reactors are located within five miles of an airport, but 96 percent of all U.S. reactors were designed without regard for the potential for impact from even a small aircraft." In his report, he also questions the relative security at some utilities' spent fuel storage facilities, which in some cases were constructed with less rigorous designs than the reactors at the sites. The NRC in some cases issued exemptions from security regulations for the spent fuel buildings, since it was assumed permanent off-site storage would be available long ago, he asserts.

One safeguard that the NRC has rejected, reports Markey, is to place "anti-aircraft capabilities at nuclear facilities, even though other countries (including France) have chosen to do so and even though many reactors are located very close to airports." Not all industry officials believe such an action would be appropriate. "Anti-aircraft guns are being discussed in Congress, but I don't believe it's a good idea, because we need a separation between what is private sector security and what is a national defense for the security of the nation. If