WASHINGTON - US nuclear power plants are not adequately protected from threats, including the theft of bomb-grade material that could be used to make weapons and attacks intended to cause a reactor meltdown, a University of Texas report said on Thursday.
Not one of the country's 104 commercial nuclear reactors or three research reactors is protected against an attack involving multiple players such as the ones carried out by 19 airplane hijackers on 9/11, said the report by the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Project, or NPPP, at the University of Texas, Austin.
The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) only requires power plants to protect against attacks carried out by five or six people, according to the report, entitled Protecting US Nuclear Facilities from Terrorist Attack. In addition, the NRC does not require plants to protect themselves against attacks from high- powered sniper rifles and rocket-propelled grenades.
The three research reactors, including one in Gaithersburg, Maryland, 24 miles (39 km) from the White House, are powered by highly enriched uranium, that if stolen, could be used to make nuclear weapons, the report said.
Power utilities have argued they have done all they can to ensure security at plants without dramatically raising power bills and that it is the responsibility of the US government to defend against attacks, said Alan Kuperman, the NPPP coordinator, and a co-author of the report. "The problem is that's not occurring," he said.