Not-so-hard targets

U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., wrote Friday to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that “the communities that surround existing plants need to be confident that the NRC, as the regulator charged with nuclear safety, did all it could to ensure that plants defend against current security threats. In particular, communities should be assured that the plants are prepared to defend against large attacking forces and commercial aircraft.”

Failing to address these issues, Boxer wrote, would be at odds with the intent of Congress in passing the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

Well, it seems the commissioners will have some serious explaining to do when they next appear before Boxer’s committee: They voted Monday against requiring existing nuclear power plants to be protected against attacks by airplanes, or against more than a small number of ground attackers.

This, despite the 9/11 Commission finding that the plotters had considered targeting nuclear reactors, and the common knowledge that a successful terrorist attack on a nuclear plant could cause a devastating radioactive release.

“Rather than requiring measures to prevent a plane crash from damaging vulnerable parts of a nuclear plant, which would be the smartest course, the government is relying on post-crash measures and evacuation plans to attempt to ‘mitigate’ the public’s exposure to radiation,” said Michele Boyd, legislative director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program. “Fire prevention is always better than fire fighting. Nuclear terrorism prevention is far more prudent than trying to reduce radiation exposures after the fact.”

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.