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Allison MacFarlane on nuclear safety

Macfarlane, AllisonHow to protect nuclear plants from terrorists, PhysOrg April 14, 2016 by Allison Macfarlane, The Conversation  In the wake of terrorist attacks in Brussels, Paris, Istanbul, Ankara and elsewhere, nations are rethinking many aspects of domestic security. Nuclear plants, as experts have long known, are potential targets for terrorists, either for sabotage or efforts to steal nuclear materials.

Currently there are 444 nuclear power plants operating in 30 countries around the world and 243 smaller research reactors, which are used to produce isotopes for medical uses and to train nuclear engineers. The nuclear industry also includes hundreds of plants that enrich uranium and fabricate fuel for reactors. Some of these facilities contain materials terrorists could use to build a nuclear or “dirty” bomb. Alternatively, power plants could be “hijacked” to create an accident of the sort experienced at Chernobyl and Fukushima, sending clouds of radioactivity over hundreds of miles.

At last month’s Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, D.C., representatives from 52 countries pledged to continue improving their nuclear security and adopted action plans to work together and through international agencies.

But significant countries like Russia and Pakistan are not participating. And many in Europe are just beginning to consider physical security measures. From my perspective as a former nuclear regulator and now as director of the Center for International Science and Technology Policy at George Washington University, it is clear that  are vulnerable to .

It is not news that security is weak at many civilian  and research facilities.

In October 2012, Greenpeace activists entered two nuclear power plants in Sweden by breaking open a gate and scaling fences without being stopped by guards. Four of them hid overnight on a roof at one reactor before surrendering the next morning.

Just this year, Sweden’s nuclear regulatory agency adopted a requirement for armed guards and additional security measures at the plants. However, these upgrades do not have to be in place until early 2017.

In 2014 French nuclear plants were plagued by unexplained drone overflights. And Greenpeace activists broke into the Fessenheim nuclear plant near the German border and hung a large banner from the reactor building.

In light of the recent Brussels attacks, reports from Belgium are more alarming. In 2012 two employees at the country’s Doel nuclear power station left Belgium to fight in Syria. In 2014 an unidentified saboteur tampered with lubricant in the turbine at the same reactor, causing the plant to shut down for five months. And earlier this year authorities investigating the Paris attacks discovered video surveillance footage of a Belgian nuclear official in the home of one of the Paris suspects.

One has to assume that potential attackers may understand how the sites and materials can be used.

Given the heightened state of alert in Europe, governments should, I believe, immediately increase security at civilian . They could emulate the United States, where security at nuclear facilities has substantially increased since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

American role model

U.S.  now are some of the most well-guarded facilities in the world.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) regulates both safety and security at nuclear power plants. After 9/11, these sites were required to add multiple layers of protection, with the cores of reactors (where the fuel is located) the most highly defended areas………

The United States has also adopted regulations to ensure cybersecurity at reactors. As new, entirely digital reactors come online, such measures will be more necessary than ever.

The successful 2010 Stuxnet attack, for example, in which a computer worm infiltrated computers at Iranian nuclear facilities and caused machines to malfunction, showed how vulnerable unprotected computer networks can be.

Improving security worldwide

There are no global standards for physical protection at civilian nuclear facilities. Each country adopts its own laws and regulations dictating what nuclear site owners are required to do to protect plants from attack.

As a result, measures at plants can vary widely, with some countries depending on the local police force for protection and leaving guards unarmed. Often the level of security depends on cultural norms and attitudes, but the recent attacks in Europe suggest a rapid adjustment is needed.

Here are steps that, in my view, all countries can take to make nuclear plants more secure……..

To prevent an attack at a nuclear site, governments must take security at nuclear sites seriously now, not a year from now.

In light of the current terrorist threat and with four Nuclear Security Summits completed, countries with nuclear  need to up their game with regards to physical  at nuclear power facilities before it’s too late.  http://phys.org/news/2016-04-nuclear-fromterrorists.html#jCp

April 15, 2016 - Posted by | 2 WORLD, incidents, safety

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