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Nuclear Sites in Days of Terror

Now That We Are All Onsite

by Don Moniak

I want to apologize upfront if this report strikes anyone as being cold and objective. The reason is that we all deal with traumatic events differently, not that I am considering applying for a job with the RAND Corporation. I spent much of Tuesday, September 11, 2001 reviewing years of files upon electronic files and filling the holes in the knowledge base through Internet searches. Incidentally, the Internet was running quite normal all day outside of the major network sites.

US Terrorism Policy: What is It?

In its haste to point fingers, the media was largely remiss in its knowledge of the fundamentals of this issue–which are available at the tip of their fingers. The defining directives appear to be PDD-39, The United States Policy on Counterterrorism (no link available, but try <http://www.terrorism.com>) PDD-62, and PDD-63, The Clinton Administration’s Policy on Critical Infrastructure Protection, May 22, 1998, the latter is available at

<http://www.terrorism.com/homeland/PDD-63.pdf>

The defining document for Government Operations appears to be: “United States Government Interagency Domestic Terrorism Concept of Operations Plan (CONPLAN)”, which “represents a concerted effort by a number of Federal departments and agencies to work together to achieve a common goal, to provide overall guidance to Federal, State and local agencies concerning how the Federal government would respond to a potential or actual terrorist threat or incident that occurs in the United States, particularly one involving Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). The CONPLAN outlines an organized and unified capability for a timely, coordinated response by Federal agencies to a terrorist threat or act.”

These threats are broken out at four levels:

1. Level #4 – Minimal Threat: Received threats do not warrant actions beyond normal liaison notifications or placing assets or resources on a heightened alert (agencies are operating under normal day-to-day conditions).

2. Level #3 – Potential Threat: Intelligence or an articulated threat indicates a potential for a terrorist incident. However, this threat has not yet been assessed as credible.

3. Level #2 – Credible Threat: A threat assessment indicates that the potential threat is credible, and confirms the involvement of WMD in the developing terrorist incident.

4. Level #1 – WMD [Weapon of Mass Destruction] Incident: A WMD terrorism incident has occurred which requires an immediate process to identify, acquire, and plan the use of Federal resources to augment State and local authorities in response to limited or major consequences of a terrorist use or employment of WMD. This incident has resulted in mass casualties.

The Federal response is primarily available via the following route: <http://www.fbi.gov/publications/terror/terroris.htm> where the FBI’s Annual Reports on Terrorism from 1996-1999 are kept, and then just hit the link to Publications. Does it appear that somehow they missed a level, as this was not a weapon of mass destruction event but a mass casualty event in which innovation was used to create massive destruction and high casualties? If the scenes that haunt everyone now are bad, keep in mind that a nuclear explosive “fizzle” can still create a 1 kiloton blast, a blast equal to 1,000 metric tonnes of high explosives and coupled with intensely radioactive fission products. Keep in mind that the responders were spared the greater horror of having to enter a biological, chemical, and/or radiological/nuclear contamination zone. The Presidential Panel Undoubtedly anyone listening to the news heard several members of terrorist review panels offering insights.

<http://www.rand.org/organization/nsrd/terrpanel> is where you can find: First Annual Report to The President and The Congress of the ADVISORY PANEL TO ASSESS DOMESTIC RESPONSE CAPABILITIES FOR TERRORISM INVOLVING WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTIOn. A few quotes are relevant, because this panel, which included consultants like Brian Jenkins of RAND Corporation (one of the few level headed speakers I witnessed, along with Senator John Kerry and Rudolph Giuliani), considered the threat of WMD events to be over-emphasized. “The Panel concludes that the Nation must be prepared for the entire spectrum of potential terrorist threats both the unprecedented higher- consequence attack, as well as the historically more frequent, lesser-consequence terrorist attack, which the Panel believes is more likely in the near term. Conventional explosives, traditionally a favorite tool of the terrorist, will likely remain the terrorist weapon of choice in the near term as well.”

“By continuing a policy that emphasizes high-end threats, there is a very real danger of failing to optimize state and local response capabilities to deal with the more probable terrorist threats confronting the United States today.”

“Indeed, of the more than 9,000 incidents since 1968, fewer than 100 evidence any indication of terrorists plotting or attempting to use chemical, biological or radiological weapons, or to steal or otherwise fabricate nuclear devices on their own.”

Nuclear Terrorism and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission

One of the first emails I saw asked whether the jets were in the vicinity of a nuclear power plant. Obviously they were if they were in the East where the majority of the nations 103 operating nuclear reactors are kept. So are they ready?

From “05/07/01 Responses to Preliminary Questions for 05/08/01 Senate Appropriations Committee on U.S. Federal Efforts to Combat Terror” (NRC document available upon request) The NRC is responsible for regulating the safety of “103 nuclear power reactors, 39 nonpower reactors, 8 fuel cycle facilities, 2 gaseous diffusion enrichment plants, and approximately 5,300 licensees authorized to use nuclear and radiological material in the private sector.” “Based on current threat projections, the NRC’s funding level for its safeguards and security programs is both realistic and proportional to the perceived threat to licensed facilities and materials. While the consensus in the U.S. government is that the threat of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction worldwide has increased, threats to NRC-licensed facilities and materials have been low.”

From “06/15/01 Letter to Vice President Cheney concerns NRC’s role in combating terrorism” by NRC Chairman Richard Meserve. “The NRC also imposes obligations to prevent or control a terrorist incident. The NRC requires that power reactors and certain sensitive fuel facilities have the capacity to defend against a Design Basis Threat (DBT). We assume for this purpose that the adversaries will consist of several well-trained and dedicated individuals with knowledge of the facility and possessing weapons (up to and including automatic weapons) and specialized equipment, such as incapacitating agents and explosives. See 10 . sec 73.1(a).” A jet crash is not considered a DBT.

A very good link to the situation is: <http://www.tmia.com/sabter.html>,

Sabotage and Terrorism at Nuke Plants Anther useful one is http://www.stimson.org/policy/peace-cv.htm Containing Nuclear Terrorism with Andrew and Leslie Cockburn authors of One Point Safe 9/27/01 And always be sure to check <http://www.nci.org>, the Nuclear Control Institute.

30 Tonnes of Plutonium at Pantex. Don’t Put More There

The Department of Energy is responsible for the nation’s nuclear weapons complex, which includes about 55 tonnes of plutonium in various forms and an unholy amount of dangerous radioactive wastes. On the day of the attack, Secretary of Energy Abraham issued the following statement: “Yesterday, I ordered that all DOE facilities be placed in high security status. All non-essential DOE personnel were evacuated and sent home. All shipments of nuclear materials were halted. Nuclear operations around the country were ceased, and nuclear material was secured. We monitored key energy infrastructure measures, and we especially heightened security at nuclear plants, and at refineries, pipelines, distribution points, and along the electricity transmission grid.”

<http://www.energy.gov/HQPress/ releases01/seppr/pr01155.htm>

By far the most vulnerable place in the country to this kind of attack is the Pantex Nuclear Weapons plant near Amarillo, Texas, where more than 12,000 plutonium triggers called pits (containing more than 30 tonnes of Pu total) are stored in 1940’s and 1960’s designed above ground bunkers a mere five miles from the Amarillo International Airport. Air Force touch and go training flights are still a common site above the 21 square mile plant, sometimes flying just a few hundred feet above the plutonium. No more plutonium should go to Pantex, and unannounced contingency plans by the DOE to use Pantex facilities to store Rocky Flats plutonium should be canceled immediately. Links from the Pantex area: <http://www.amarillonet.com/stories/ 091301/new_burnedwhen.shtml> describes a bomb going off in Clovis New Mexico.

<http://www.amarillonet.com/stories/ 091201/ter_aresenthome.s html> is about “Pantex Response: Nonessential Pantex employees were sent home Tuesday and normal operations shut down in response to the terrorist attacks.”

<http://www.amarillonet.com/stories/091101/ ter_cropdusting.shtml> is about “Cropduster Cancels Flight,” which gives a sense of how vulnerable the place is.

A Long List of Links Nuclear Smuggling Sources <http://www-safeguards.lanl.gov/ nis7_projects/nuc_smug.html> Los Alamos Safeguards and Security Program Quarterly Reports: <http://www.lanl.gov/ossquarterly/>

US Dept of Transportation Security and Intelligence Page http://152.122.41.10/ <http://152.122.41.10/library_OIS.html>

Others: <http://nsi.org/Terrorism.html> <http://www.st-and.ac.uk/academic/ intrel/research/cstpv/publications1a.htm> <http://www.st-and.ac.uk/academic/intrel/ research/cstpv/publications.htm> <http://www.rand.org/hot/newslinks.html> <http://www.rand.org/publications/MR/MR989/>