Nuclear power plants ordered to enhance security

By Kathy Helms-Hughes

   The Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Tuesday issued orders to the nation's 104 commercial nuclear power plants to implement new interim security measures as a result of persistent high-level threats following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
   The NRC issued a number of safeguards and threat advisories to its nuclear licensees after terrorists used large commercial aircraft as weapons to simultaneously attack targets in New York and Washington, D.C.
   Subsequent intelligence information led the NRC "to evaluate the generalized high-level threat environment" and the adequacy of security measures at licensed facilities, including nuclear reactors operated at Tennessee Valley Authority's Watts Bar, Sequoyah, and Browns Ferry nuclear plants. The NRC also has begun a comprehensive review of its safeguards and security programs and requirements.
   As a result, Samuel J. Collins, director of the Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation, issued an order Monday, effective immediately, outlining a number of measures nuclear licensees must take to protect public health and safety. The order was published Tuesday by the NRC.
   The specific actions required contain sensitive information and are not subject to public review, however, according to the NRC, they generally include requirements for increased patrols, augmented security forces and capabilities, additional security posts, installation of additional physical barriers, vehicle checks at greater stand-off distances, enhanced coordination with law enforcement and military authorities, and more restrictive site access controls for all personnel.
   According to the order, nuclear licensees must begin implementation of the requirements immediately and complete them by Aug. 31. They also must provide NRC with a schedule for achieving full compliance within 20 days.
   If unable to comply with any of the requirements, licensees must notify NRC within 20 days and justify their reasons in writing. They also must notify in writing if they feel compliance with any requirement is unnecessary in their specific circumstances; if implementation of any requirement would cause them to be in violation of provisions of any commission regulation or facility license; or if compliance would adversely impact safe operation.
   The requirements are to remain in effect until notified otherwise by the NRC.
   Some of the requirements formalize a series of security measures taken in response to advisories issued in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks when licensees were ordered to go to the highest level of security. Others emerged from an ongoing comprehensive security review.
   In a briefing Feb. 6, CIA Director George Tenet said terrorists are working on "multiple-attack plans" and could strike U.S. nuclear plants and chemical industry sites "to cause widespread toxic or radiological damage."
   Tenet said al-Qaida terrorists also have plans for high-profile strikes on government and private facilities, landmarks and infrastructure such as airports, harbors and dams.