The United States is woefully unprepared to protect its nuclear power plants from a terrorist attack, a former CIA officer divulged on CNN.com yesterday.
Charles S. Faddis, the former head of the CIA's unit on terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, writes that he investigated security measures at many U.S. nuclear power plants during research for a book on the state of U.S homeland security. He found them wanting. His call to secure these sites comes after President Barack Obama guaranteed $8 billion in government loans to a company to construct two new nuclear power plants in Georgia.
"[B]efore we start building reactors we need to address another urgent matter," he writes. "We need to make current reactors secure."
A terrorist attack against a nuclear power plant isn't a theoretical vulnerability, Faddis, the author of "Willful Neglect: The Dangerous Illusion of Homeland Security," explains. Last month, Yemen detained a Somali-American man in a roundup of suspected al Qaeda militants. New Jersey-native Sharif Mobley subsequently came to the attention of the U.S. media last week when he shot and killed a hospital guard in an escape attempt in the Yemeni capital of Sana'a. Prior to leaving the United States for Yemen, Mobley worked at three different nuclear power plants from 2002 to 2008, the Daily News reports. Faddis also reminds readers that 9-11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed originally wanted to crash airliners into nuclear power plants as part of the 9-11 terrorist operation.
A chief problem, writes Faddis, is how nuclear power plants utilize and treat private security guards who protect its facilities.
After 9-11, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) increased the amount of private security guards nuclear plants had to have on shift to secure the facility. Faddis writes that, on average, most plants now field 20 private security guards per shift, up from five to ten mandated by the NRC before 9-11. Considering the damage a terrorist attack on a nuclear plant could do, he finds these numbers significantly too low to adequately protect the perimeter of such large facilities.
But Faddis' real gripe is with how security guards at nuclear power plants are hired and trained, which ensures guards cannot successfully defend such a prime target from a sophisticated terrorist attack.
These guards are grossly underpaid. In many cases, they make less than the janitors at the facilities in question. They train with their weapons no more than two to three times a year. Some of them are prior military and have combat experience.
Many others are hired off the street and given less than a week's worth of training before they begin to stand post. Much of that week of training is consumed with administrative matters, which have nothing to do with learning how to repel a terrorist attack.
Morale among the guards at nuclear power plants is chronically low. I was told by many individuals during my research that it was common to hear discussions among guards about where they would hide if there were an attack. (My emphasis)
Faddis writes that even when private security guards are put through attack scenarios that handicap terrorist forces—no rocket launchers or machine guns—guards fail to repel the attack at least half the time. Furthermore, terrorists would only need a basic understanding of plant operations to cause a nuclear meltdown.
The vulnerability is clear to Faddis. "Before we move ahead with any new nuclear power plants, let's attend to unfinished business and fix security at the ones we have."
(For more examples of less than stellar security guard work at nuclear power plants, see "Sleeping on the Job" from Oct. 12, 2007)
♦ Photo of the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant by emdot/Flickr