03 November 2007

FROM NEI: Nuclear Power Plant Security

Nuclear Power Plant Security

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Key Facts

  • The defense-in-depth philosophy used in the construction and operation of nuclear power plants provides high levels of protection for public health and safety.
  • The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission holds nuclear power plants to the highest security standards of any American industry. The industry meets or exceeds these requirements in all areas. As a result, America’s nuclear power plants are our nation’s most protected and secure industrial assets. Well-armed and highly trained security forces protect every U.S. nuclear facility. These forces are routinely drilled and tested to ensure their readiness.
  • Since Sept. 11, 2001, security provisions at nuclear power plants have been strengthened. The NRC has issued new security requirements for nuclear plant sites, and all U.S. plants have met these requirements.
  • As part of 2005 comprehensive energy legislation, Congress required that the NRC officially increase security requirements. The bill also mandated background checks on nuclear power plant workers and allowed guards to use more advanced weaponry.
  • The industry has added about 3,000 officers and upgraded physical security over the past four years. The industry has spent an additional $1.5 billion on security since September 2001.
  • The industry coordinates with the NRC, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and intelligence agencies on the assessment of potential threats and the specific actions by industry security forces in the event of a credible threat against a commercial nuclear facility.
  • All commercial nuclear plants have emergency response procedures and contingency plans in the event of a plant accident or terrorist event. These procedures are evaluated every three years during extensive drills involving plant personnel and local police, fire and emergency management organizations. NRC and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) expert teams evaluate these drills.
Plant Security Meets All Federal Requirements
The nuclear energy industry is one of the few industries whose security program is regulated by the federal government. The NRC’s requirements for nuclear power plant security are predicated on the need to protect the public from the possibility of exposure to radioactive releases caused by acts of sabotage. Intelligence information and incidents around the world are analyzed to ensure plant protection regulations are updated to reflect potential threats.

The NRC’s security regulations are designed to ensure the industry’s security force can protect against a range of threats. The threat against which the industry must defend is characterized as a suicidal, well-trained paramilitary force, armed with automatic weapons and explosives, and intent on forcing its way into a nuclear power plant to commit radiological sabotage. Such a force may have the assistance of an “insider,” who could pass along information and help the attackers. The presumed goal of such an attack would be the release of radioactive material from the plant.

The NRC’s “design basis threat” provides a foundation for developing defensive response strategies that cover a variety of situations. The NRC determines the design basis threat using technical studies and information received from intelligence experts and federal law enforcement agencies. It is reviewed by the agency twice a year.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, the NRC has twice raised the threat level against which nuclear plants must provide protection. In doing so, the NRC has assumed an increased number of possible attackers and weapons capabilities.

Congress also responded to public concern over nuclear plant security by including in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 several provisions that increase security requirements or capabilities. As part of the bill, the NRC was directed to increase officially the scope of the design basis threat. It also requires plants to fingerprint and conduct background checks of their employees. The bill also allowed the NRC to mandate certain advanced weaponry for plant guards. In addition, the bill increased federal penalties for sabotage and for bringing unauthorized weapons on to a nuclear power plant site.

Many industry security elements are considered “safeguards” information, which means they are controlled on a “need-to-know” basis. Clearly, plant protection capabilities and response strategy should be controlled and protected from public disclosure to avoid compromises that might benefit a potential adversary.

Defense-in-Depth Against Potential Threats
The FBI considers security forces and infrastructure at nuclear power plants formidable and considers nuclear power plants difficult to penetrate. In addition, the defense-in-depth features that protect the public from radiological hazard in the event of a reactor incident also protect the plant’s fuel and related safety systems from attempted sabotage. The design of each plant emphasizes the reliability of plant systems, redundancy and diversity of key safety systems, and other safety features to prevent incidents that could pose a threat to public health and safety.

Steel-reinforced concrete containment structures protect the reactor. Redundant safety and reactor shutdown systems have been designed to withstand the impact of earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes and floods. Areas of the plant that house the reactor and used reactor fuel also would withstand the impact of a wide-body commercial aircraft, according to peer-reviewed analyses by the Electric Power Research Institute, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based research organization. Plant personnel are trained in emergency procedures that would be used to keep the plant safe from a sabotage attempt.

A two-day national security exercise conducted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in 2002 found that nuclear power plants would be less attractive targets to terrorist organizations because of the industry’s robust security program. The exercise was designed to explore difficulties and reveal vulnerabilities that might arise if the nation were faced with a credible, but ambiguous, threat of a terrorist attack on American soil.

“Silent Vector” was developed and produced by CSIS in partnership with the ANSER Institute for Homeland Security and the Oklahoma City National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism. Potential targets included refineries, large liquefied natural gas or liquefied petroleum gas storage operations, pipeline infrastructure, petroleum terminals, nuclear power plants, chemical operations, and dams.

CSIS President John Hamre said that nuclear power plants “are probably our best-defended targets. There is more security around nuclear power plants than anything else we’ve got. … One of the things that we have clearly found in this exercise is that this is an industry that has taken security pretty seriously for quite a long time, and its infrastructure, especially against these kinds of terrorist threats, is extremely good.”

Security Increased Since Sept. 11, 2001
Immediately after the events of Sept. 11, 2001, security at every nuclear power plant was placed on its highest level of alert. Nuclear plant security now is consistent with DHS threat levels.

As a result, access to the plants is more strictly controlled, the defensive perimeters have been extended and reinforced, and security forces and capabilities have been augmented. Further, coordination with law enforcement, the intelligence community and the military has been enhanced. At some plants, these efforts have been supplemented by National Guard, U.S. Coast Guard, state police or other forces.

In 2002, the NRC formalized many of the enhancements to security that the industry already had implemented. The agency subsequently issued new requirements further restricting access authorization.

In 2003, the NRC issued rules limiting the working hours of security personnel and requiring increased training, including weapons proficiency. All plants met these requirements in 2004.

As a result of these mandates, each nuclear plant site has spent an average of nearly $70 million for physical improvements to improve security. In addition, the industry’s total guard force was increased by approximately 60 percent.

Site Security Measures
All commercial nuclear plants have established extensive security measures. Plant operators and the NRC inspect these measures and test them in drills to uncover any weakness. Security measures include:
  • physical barriers and illuminated detection zones
  • approximately 8,000 well-trained and well-equipped armed security officers at 64 sites who are on duty all day, every day
  • surveillance and patrols of the perimeter fence
  • intrusion detection aids (including several types of detection fields, closed-circuit television systems and alarm/alert devices)
  • bullet-resisting barriers to critical areas
  • a dedicated contingency response force.

All threats will be countered with dedicated, tactically trained, well-armed security officers who collectively determine the nature of a threat, assess its magnitude and take aggressive steps to deter the threat.

Controlled Access
Access to a nuclear power plant requires passage through a larger “owner-controlled area” surrounding the plant.

Access to an interior fenced area—the protected area, where the reactor building is located—is controlled by security officers and physical barriers. Vehicle barriers and/or other physical boundaries ensure the protected area of the plant cannot be breached by a direct vehicular assault or by detonation of a vehicle bomb. All vehicles, personnel and material entering the protected area first must be thoroughly inspected by security officers to ensure that no weapons, explosives or other such items are brought onto the plant site.

Access to the “protected area” of the plant is controlled through the use of physical barriers, intrusion detection equipment, closed-circuit surveillance equipment, a designated isolation zone and exterior lighting.

Access to the inner areas of the plant where vital equipment is located also is controlled through the use of physical barriers, locked and alarmed doors, and card-reader or hand geometry access control systems.

The barriers are substantial enough to effectively delay entry to allow for an effective armed response by plant security forces. Within the protected zone, access to all vital areas of the plant is even more secure. This access may be controlled by a security officer or provided by computer-controlled “key-card” access systems. Plant employees must have a documented need prior to gaining access to each vital area, and their movements are tracked by key-card access points throughout the vital area.

Reactor Operators Act in Concert With Security
Reactor operators train frequently to be sure they can respond to a range of unusual events. Plant operators have emergency procedures in place specifically for security situations, including automatic shutdown of the reactor in the event of an attack. Emergency planning and public notification systems support protection of public health and safety. The NRC periodically evaluates these plans during exercises or drills, which also may involve local police, fire and emergency management organizations.

Protecting Against An Insider Threat
All nuclear power plants have programs that reduce the potential for threats from plant personnel, or “insiders.” These include authorization criteria for those allowed unescorted access to the plant’s protected area and “fitness-for-duty” programs to deter drug and alcohol abuse.

Strong behavioral observation programs are in place requiring personnel to be trained to observe and report behavior that may be a potential threat to the normal operation of a nuclear power plant. In addition, many companies provide teamwork development programs that promote commitment and accountability in the work force.

Access Authorization

Before new nuclear plant employees or contractor employees are allowed unescorted access to the protected area, they must pass several evaluations and background checks to determine whether they are trustworthy and reliable. These include drug and alcohol screening, psychological evaluations, a check with former employers, education records, criminal histories (through the FBI) and credit histories.

Fitness-for-Duty Programs
Companies that operate nuclear power plants demand and ensure that personnel perform their duties in a safe, reliable and trustworthy manner, and are not under the influence of legal or illegal substances, or mentally or physically impaired from other causes, that would adversely hinder their ability to competently perform their duties. Employees who have unescorted access to the plant’s protected area must maintain their fitness-for-duty. The NRC requires companies to conduct random drug and alcohol testing on their employees. At least half of all employees are tested annually.

Behavioral Observation
Employees with unescorted plant access are subject to continual behavioral observation programs. This observation is conducted by personnel who have been trained to do so. The purpose is to detect individual behavioral changes that, if left unattended, could lead to acts detrimental to public safety. Employees are offered counseling if they have job performance problems or exhibit unusual behavior. Similarly, anyone who appears to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol is immediately removed from the work area for evaluation.

Further Improvement Through Coordination
The nuclear energy industry recognizes that there is a theoretical possibility of an attack beyond the capabilities of plant security. In such cases, plant personnel would help respond in coordination with local, state and federal authorities. Nuclear plants are pursuing several different efforts to facilitate better coordination between the facilities and local, state and federal entities.

The nuclear energy industry is the first industrial sector to participate in the DHS Comprehensive Review Program. The comprehensive reviews examine every element of the critical infrastructure, including a thorough security assessment. DHS provides recommendations on additional measures that can be taken to protect against and mitigate possible terrorist attacks.

During these comprehensive reviews, a multidisciplinary team spends a week reviewing a site’s vulnerabilities and security plans and also spends three to five days at the site interacting with security personnel, emergency planning and response staff, and state and local law enforcement and emergency responders. All nuclear power plants are expected to complete comprehensive reviews by July 2007.

The industry is fully committed to working with all levels of government to provide the best security possible to deter an attack and to respond forcefully and swiftly should one occur. The industry must always satisfy the security requirements imposed by the NRC. It is working constantly to improve security at nuclear plants through training, drills and exercises; implementation of new technology; and cooperation with government entities such as DHS, the FBI and local law enforcement.

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