Nuclear lessons from 9/11

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After 9/11, the NRC was granted the power to give federal authorization for a shoot-to-kill response to an assault on a nuclear power plant. The agency also expanded the protective shield around nuclear plants by forging closer cooperation with local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies, as well as the U.S. military and the intelligence community.  And, most relevant to the safety capabilities presented by Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi accident, the 9/11 attacks prompted significant upgrades in the capabilities of nuclear plants.  This included the addition of diverse and redundant safety equipment to prevent a radiological release.
 
American companies that operate nuclear energy facilities have spent more than $2 billion on security enhancements since 9/11, including additional safety equipment, layers of protective barriers, plant-access deterrents, sophisticated surveillance equipment and other technology to thwart potential intruders.  Plant security personnel increased by about 50 percent, to more than 8,000 well-trained, highly armed officers at 64 sites.  And, over the past decade, the NRC has prudently enhanced the commitments that America’s nuclear power plant operators must satisfy.
 
The result: U.S. nuclear power plants are safer and more secure today than ever before.  The improvements that resulted from 9/11 served not only to make plants more secure against terrorists, they also strengthened their ability to withstand all manner of catastrophic events, including floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, and fires. This capability has been tested in recent months, and the safety of the plants has been demonstrated.
 
Both the NRC and the industry understand that the safety of nuclear facilities is “job one.” Safe, low-carbon nuclear power is a vital part of America’s electric generation capacity, and there is a fundamental commitment to provide a reliable, safe, and secure supply of electricity.
 
Our experience after 9/11 was that it is prudent to triple-check safety immediately and correct obvious flaws. But once satisfied with current plant conditions, we should move deliberately to make further changes based on the technical expertise of the NRC staff and of stakeholders.
 
As our nation commemorates those men and women who lost their lives a decade ago, it is also appropriate to consider the actions to thwart future attacks. The NRC and the industry have met the challenge. And we are grateful for having had the opportunity to further reduce the likelihood that America’s nuclear energy facilities could ever be used as a means of inflicting harm on our nation.
 
 
Meserve was chairman of the NRC from 1999 to 2003 and is president of Carnegie Institution for Science.  Klein chaired the NRC from 2006 to 2009 and also served as assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Nuclear and Chemical and Biological Defense Programs and is Associate Director of the Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin.

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