Coalition Demands Solution for Nuclear Reactor Vulnerability to Terrorist Attacks


For Immediate Release

August 10, 2004





Norm Cohen


UNPLUG Salem Campaign

Deb Katz

(413) 339-5781

Citizens Awareness Network

Dr. Gordon Thompson

(617) 491-5177

Institute for Resource & Security Studies

Paul Gunter

(202) 328-0002

Nuclear Information & Resource Service


Today, the UNPLUG Salem Campaign joined a coalition of national, regional, and local environmental, public interest, and nuclear watchdog organizations and petitioned the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to hold emergency enforcement hearings on a significant structural vulnerability to terrorism existing at 32 U.S. commercial nuclear power reactors located in 15 states. 


“Nuclear reactors are predeployed weapons of mass destruction,” said Deb Katz, Executive Director of Citizens Awareness Network, a regional group and one of the petition’s authors.  “It is the NRC’s job to protect our health and safety and assure public confidence in the regulatory process.  Presently NRC’s efforts are inadequate,” concluded Katz.


The petition spotlights the General Electric Mark I and Mark II boiling water reactor (BWR) designs, 24 Mark I and 8 Mark II reactors, where large inventories of highly radioactive waste – used reactor fuel rods – are currently stored in densely packed elevated storage ponds, above and outside the primary containment structure.  The roof top nuclear waste storage ponds are vulnerable to a variety of attacks from above, below, and on three sides of the reactor designs. 


“Both the Hope Creek and Oyster Creek nuclear plants are Mark I reactors, and are vulnerable,” said Norm Cohen, Coordinator of the nuclear watchdog group UNPLUG Salem Campaign. “We have talked about the vulnerability of Hope Creek’s spent fuel pool for years. Now we a chance to do something about it,” Cohen concluded.


“The structural vulnerability at these reactors can no longer be quietly tolerated,” said Paul Gunter with Washington, DC-based Nuclear Information Resource Service (NIRS).  “NRC must stop protecting the nuclear industry from the cost of security and assess the true cost of protecting these reactors against terrorism,” said Gunter.


An NRC study issued in October 2000 entitled “Technical Study on Spent Fuel Pool Accident Risk at Decommissioning Nuclear Power Reactors,” specifically identifies the structural vulnerabilities of Mark I and II BWRs to aircraft penetration. “Mark I and Mark II secondary containments generally do not appear to have any significant structures that might reduce the likelihood of aircraft penetration,” said the report.[1] The publicly available government report additionally stated that the public health consequences of a nuclear fuel fire caused by the loss of cooling water in the storage pond could result in tens of thousands of deaths out to 500 miles from the damaged facility. 


The nuclear security coalition’s emergency petition comes on the heels of a congressional committee that urged the NRC to take “immediate steps” to upgrade fuel pool safety and security and that the NRC conduct further analyses of pool vulnerabilities, focusing on certain types of terrorist attacks.  The committee gave NRC 90 days to report back.  Since the September 11th terrorist attacks NRC has ignored structural vulnerabilities and consequences of a successful attack on reactor fuel pools, instead describing the pools as “well engineered” and “robust” structures despite pre-September 11th findings to the contrary.


The petition requests that the NRC take immediate action to address these structural vulnerabilities to acts of terrorism in the nation’s defenses.  These actions include:



The request for process that is open, democratic, and inclusive of the public and affected communities is central to the coalition’s petition.  Since September 11, 2001, NRC has unilaterally neglected input from the public interest groups, affected communities and other government agencies, and instead allied itself with nuclear reactor owners.  NRC’s response to the 9-11 attacks has been characterized by secrecy, superficial improvements and public relations. 

(Copies of the petition and annex available upon request, and will shortly be posted to the UNPLUG Salem website)

[1] “Transmittal of Technical Study on Spent Fuel Pool Accident Risk at Decommissioning Nuclear Power Stations,” U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, January 18, 2001, Section 3.5.2 ‘Aircraft Crashes,’ page -3-23.  ADAMS Accession # ML010180413