Report: Threat to Nuclear Reactors Underestimated

By Laura Spadanuta, Assistant Editor

A new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report obtained by the New York Times finds that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has been overestimating the risks and potential consequences of terrorist attacks on nuclear reactors on college campuses.

The report also says that the NRC overruled expert contractors and misrepresented what they said.

The New York Times reports that an unclassified version of the GAO audit criticized the NRC's assessment of the risk and said that "more parts of research reactors were probably vulnerable to damage than the commission assumed."

Civilian power plants have increased security since 9-11, but security requirements for the research reactors are little changed, according to the report. Research reactors are, however, less than 1 percent as powerful as the civilian reactors, according to the article and do not operate under pressure; rather they are used for scientific research, training, and making medical isotopes.

According to the report: "The nuclear commission’s estimates of vulnerability are 'not supported' by experts from Sandia National Laboratories, Idaho National Laboratory and the Department of Homeland Security, the auditors said. The Idaho experts said that a terrorist attack could have 'significant consequences' and a 'high socio-economic impact,' the auditors said."

The NRC contends that the GAO is misrepresenting outside experts and making unsupported assumptions. The GAO report has not yet been released to the public.




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