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Hacking could be the biggest risk of all for nuclear reactors

The Newest Risk to Nuclear Power May Be the Biggest Yet (Hint: It’s Hacking), Madison.com newsfeedback@fool.com (Maxx Chatsko) Aug 9, 2017 
Nuclear energy has faced no shortage of obstacles over the past several years, although the biggest threat to date has been economics…..But economics may no longer be the biggest threat. A series of recently uncovered cyberattacks hint that hacking may be a worrisome new risk for existing nuclear reactors.

A serious threat?

In late June E&E News was the first to report that an American nuclear facility had been hacked into, prompting the FBI and Department of Homeland Security to issue back-to-back cybersecurity warnings to grid operators. The site, initially identified only as “nuclear 17”, was later confirmed to be the Wolf Creek facility in Kansas.

It’s owned by a consortium that includes Westar Energy (NYSE: WR). Although it hasn’t commented on the hack directly to shareholders, the company began including “cyber terrorism” as a potential risk in SEC filings beginning on July 9. That may soon become the norm for utilities and power generators, especially those exposed to nuclear energy, which generates 19% of American electricity.

How real is the risk? The New York Times obtained an urgent joint report issued by the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI that resulted in an “urgent amber warning”, which is the second-highest possible.

Grid hacking is already commonplace in the Ukraine, which security experts suspect Russia is using as a sandbox to test hacking tools for industrial infrastructure. Indeed, the techniques used to hack into Wolf Creek are eerily similar to a Russian hacking group called “Energetic Bear”.

Wolf Creek was hardly a one time incident in the United States. Michael Yates of Vanity Fair recently interviewed current and former officials at the U.S. Department of Energy, which devotes half of its annual budget to nuclear waste management and nuclear security for the entire planet. One interviewee, John MacWilliams, the first Chief Risk Officer for the DOE, spoke to the vulnerability of the national grid to hacking:…….

What does it mean for investors?

The new reality of cyber warfare presents a significant new risk to nuclear power plant operators such as Exelon and Westar Energy, and investors should expect new risk factors to begin appearing in SEC filings. It also presents another argument in favor of distributed, clean energy systems — and I’m saying that as a nuclear bull. After all, a hacked solar panel or wind turbine sounds significantly less terrifying than a hacked nuclear plant.

Unfortunately, right now there are not enough data to quantify the risks posed to nuclear power facilities in the United States, let alone broken down by owner. But should the cybersecurity threat continue to grow — and all indications are that it will — then it’s yet another downside to nuclear energy. And this latest risk could be the last straw in the court of public opinion. http://host.madison.com/business/investment/markets-and-stocks/the-newest-risk-to-nuclear-power-may-be-the-biggest/article_4ff3d4b9-88c4-5f6a-9074-dd0574dd029e.html

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August 11, 2017 - Posted by | 2 WORLD, safety

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