- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 2, 2002

Since the tragic events of September 11 brought terrorism onto U.S. shores, security concerns have become an overwhelming priority for America's critical infrastructure, airports and other civil services. Our government, businesses and even our entertainment industry have had to alter their entire security procedures in light of the changed world we live in.

The nuclear energy industry has implemented a number of enhancements at our facilities, but the reality is that nuclear power plants were the most secure industrial facilities in the United States before September 11. Today, we're even more secure.

Since last September, security enhancements at nuclear power plants include: extending the security perimeters at our plants, increasing armed security patrols and increasing well-qualified security staffing to 6,000 at 67 nuclear plant sites and augmenting almost-daily coordination with local, state and federal law-enforcement authorities.

Seventy percent of security officers at the nation's nuclear power plants are former military, law-enforcement or industrial security professionals including former U.S. Secret Service, Delta Force and other paramilitary officers skilled in counterterrorism tactics. They are heavily armed, well-trained and highly compensated officers who form the front line of a comprehensive security program.

James Kallstrom, former director of the New York Office of Public Security, said after a review of the Indian Point nuclear power plant: "What I care about is the security of this plant, the ability of a terrorist organization to take it over, and I can tell you, it's robust enough to let 'em try." Mr. Kallstrom's view is not unusual. State security directors, governors and members of Congress who have visited nuclear plants recently are universally impressed by their robust security programs.

It is unfortunate that in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks, a few special-interest groups have sought to further their nuclear phaseout agenda by spinning unwarranted tales of nuclear disaster. Their conjecture is alarmist and irresponsible, and has been discredited repeatedly by officials responsible for security issues.

No business can guarantee it won't be targeted with an act of war similar to the September 11 attacks. But nuclear power plants already are among the most robust and closely protected facilities, and the industry has worked with federal, state and local authorities to ensure that a seamless response exists to guard against terrorist threats.

Nuclear power plant buildings that protect reactors are extremely strong and designed to resist catastrophes. The steel-reinforced concrete containment structures have been designed to withstand the impact of hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and airborne objects with tremendous force. Nuclear power plants were designed with a "defense-in-depth" safety strategy that includes metal sleeves that hold the low-enriched uranium fuel, and a combined 12 feet of concrete and steel between the reactor fuel and the outside of the reactor building.

The industry employs state-of-the-art electronic surveillance, sensor technology and rigorous personnel screening procedures to augment plant security programs. Computer-controlled gates requiring positive identification of personnel control entry to the plants. In addition, the security programs at nuclear power plants are constantly updated to take advantage of new technology and to counter potential new threats as they evolve.

All 103 nuclear power reactors and other facilities licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission met stringent federal security regulations long before September 11. In the past year, the industry has remained at a heightened security level and has been continuously monitored by the NRC, which is in constant contact with the intelligence community, federal law enforcement agencies and the military.

Physical security of power plants is just one component of our overall energy security. Energy is the vital foundation of America's national security and economy, with reliable electricity providing the foundation and spark for our technology-driven society. Nuclear energy is essential to the U.S. economy, providing electricity for one of every five homes and businesses.

In spite of the slowing economy, the demand for electricity is growing. The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that the United States will require almost 50 percent more electric generating capacity between now and 2020. In recent years, U.S. nuclear power plants have produced record amounts of electricity, and they are operating at a pace to again set efficiency and production records.

During this time, nuclear plants have operated at well more than 90 percent efficiency the best round-the-clock operation of any energy source. In addition to outstanding reliability and low production costs (averaging 1.74 cents per kilowatt-hour in 2000), nuclear energy is needed to meet reduction goals for greenhouse gas emissions, primarily carbon dioxide. Put simply, if nuclear power were not used nationwide, approximately 135 million passenger cars would have to be removed from our roadways to keep U.S. carbon dioxide emissions in balance.

We cannot realize our goals of energy security and environmental stewardship without nuclear energy. An economy that increasingly relies on computers and electro-technology must have an ample supply of reliable electricity to power those devices. There simply is no way to have a coherent, forward-looking energy policy without significant use of nuclear energy.

Ralph Beedle is senior vice president and chief nuclear officer at the Nuclear Energy Institute. He served 21 years in the Navy nuclear submarine program, including as commander of the USS Los Angeles and as a member of the Secretary of the Navy Strategic Studies Group.

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