Enhanced firepower sought to fend off ‘radiological sabotage’ at nuclear sites

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is moving forward with plans to outfit security guards protecting spent fuel storage sites at power plants with machine guns and other high-capacity weapons.

A supplemental proposed rule to be published Thursday in the Federal Register amends a 2011 regulation giving personnel at the sites “an expanded arsenal of weapons, including machine guns and semi-automatic, large capacity, assault weapons.”

Private security at the sites are currently armed, but to a lesser degree.

Together, the original proposal and supplement are designed to fend off any attempts at “radiological sabotage” at 65 operating power reactor sites, 53 of which have on-site spent fuel storage areas.

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“The proposed action could reduce the risk that public health will be affected by radiological releases because of the increased likelihood of a successful repulsion of an attack,” the agency contends in the proposal.

If adopted, the new regulation would be voluntary, and the nation’s nuclear operators would have the option of applying for the added security. 

Assuming all eligible sites took advantage, the total cost of the program would be between $32 million and $41.6 million, with the nuclear industry bearing most of the expense, according to the commission.

The supplemental proposal specifies that spent-fuel storage facilities located at power plants would be eligible to participate. However, the new supplement isn’t likely to add to the number of security personnel who could carry machine guns or the other high capacity guns, NRC spokesman David McIntyre said.

Members of the public and interested parties will have 45 days to comment on the proposal.