Testimony on Nuclear Plant Security before the Senate Committee on Appropriations
David Lochbaum of UCS
Good afternoon Mr. Chairman and members of
the Committee. My name is David Lochbaum. I am the nuclear safety engineer for
the Union of Concerned Scientists.
After the September 11th attacks,
many Americans worried about the nuclear plants in their backyards.
Unfortunately, inactions by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission fanned the flames
of fear when their responsible actions may have suppressed them. They could have
continued security tests to demonstrate adequate preparedness. Instead, they
cancelled all the tests. They could have communicated with the public about
nuclear plant security. Instead they chose silence. They could have pointed to
the emergency plans that protect the public in event of a nuclear plant
disaster. Instead, they chose to hide these plans.
As a direct result, state and local
authorities shouldered more of the burden. The NRC itself has been hampered by
its policy mistakes. NRC staffers repeatedly complain that they spend too much
time responding to questions from members of Congress. The agency apparently
hasn't realized that these questions represent an appetite for information that
must be fed, not starved.
The NRC must get back into the security
testing business. On September 10th, the NRC had plans for tests at
fourteen nuclear plant sites. The NRC cancelled all the tests after September 11th.
Seven months have passed and the NRC still has no firm plans to resume
The last test demonstrated why testing is
needed. NRC inspectors went to the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant last August.
Their testing revealed weaknesses that were "considered generally
predictable, repeatable and indicative of a broad programmatic problem."
A "broad programmatic problem"
affecting security is unfortunate. But it would be far more unfortunate for such
a problem to remain undetected. The NRC began its security tests in 1991.
Approximately half of the 80-plus tests conducted have revealed serious
problems. Given that performance has been consistent over the years, it is not
overly speculative to assume that approximately seven of the fourteen tests
planned for this year would have revealed serious problems. But none of those
tests have been run. Thus, no problems have been found. More importantly, no
problems have been fixed.
In addition to fixing security problems, the
tests also provide the NRC with its best communication vehicle. State and local
authorities face difficult decisions allocating resources for protection. Those
decisions would be aided by knowledge that the NRC recently tested nuclear plant
security within their jurisdictions. The tests would also help the NRC
communicate with its public. The NRC publicly releases big picture information
following security tests. The public is more likely to be reassured by a single
test demonstrating adequate security than a thousand press releases from the
industry proclaiming nuclear plants to be safe and secure.
The NRC must do a better job of public
communications. The agency has remained virtually silent on an issue troubling
many Americans. The NRC should follow the model of the recent Olympic Games.
There was extensive media coverage about security. Reporters accompanied
security details on patrols with bomb-sniffing dogs and prowled with
surveillance teams using infra-red detection equipment. This approach provided
enough security information to reassure an anxious public without giving too
much information to anyone seeking to disrupt the games. It was a pro-active,
responsible way to balance the public's right-to-know with the security concept
The NRC should emulate the Olympic Games
model by responsibly releasing security information. For example, media accounts
after September 11 reported about citizens and local officials driving past
unlocked and unmanned security gates onto the grounds of nuclear plants in
Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Maine. The public was understandably apprehensive.
The NRC could have allayed concerns by pointing out that nuclear plants are
ringed by two sets of gates — outer gates for convenience and inner gates for
security — and the inner security gates were always manned and locked.
Responsible public communications also helps
deter potential attacks. Part of the allure of The Club as an anti-car theft
device is that it can be easily seen through car windows. Many homes and
businesses have signs saying "Protected by Acme Security" in their
windows - not so burglars will know how to defeat their security but to deter
them from even trying. Responsible communications about nuclear plant security
might dissuade anyone from staging an attack.
Our final example of information withheld by
the agency that the public has both a right-to-know and a need-to-know involves
emergency planning. All nuclear plants operating in the United States have
emergency plans. The plans vary from community to community depending on the
resources and decisions of state and local authorities.
Prior to September 11, the emergency plans
were available on the NRC's website. Parents could access the plans and learn
what protective measures would be taken for their children. Emergency plans were
pulled from the public arena following September 11. The NRC must restore public
access to this information. Parents have a right-to-know how their children will
The damage to the public psyche caused by the
NRC's inactions has been done. The NRC must begin the healing process by
resuming security tests, communicating responsibly with the public about
security matters, and by providing the public with the information it needs
regarding emergency plans. These measures can be accomplished within the NRC's
To help the NRC along this path, the Congress
could expand the scope of a report currently submitted to it each month by the
agency. These reports provide the status on a range of NRC activities and could
easily be expanded to include security tests, communications to the public on
nuclear plant security matters, and availability of emergency planning