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Study Warns Of Potential For Attacks On U.S. Reactors

by Jeff Johnson
August 26, 2013 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 91, Issue 34

All U.S. commercial nuclear power plant reactors and several research reactors are vulnerable to terrorist attacks, according to a report conducted for the Pentagon. Protective measures taken at these facilities during the years since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks are inadequate to block the theft of bomb-grade nuclear material or sabotage efforts intended to cause a nuclear meltdown, it says. The study, by the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Project of the University of Texas Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, in Austin, warns of possible attacks with airplanes, ships, or readily available weaponry, such as high-powered sniper rifles. It singles out for particular concern the susceptibility of three civilian research reactors fueled with bomb-grade uranium. Those are at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Missouri, and the National Institute of Standards & Technology facility in Gaithersburg, Md. Both the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which oversees reactor safety, and the Nuclear Energy Institute, a nuclear trade association, dismissed the report. They say current security requirements are adequate, and both are confident that U.S. nuclear facilities are appropriately protected.


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