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Nuclear Power Research

Essay by   •  January 24, 2012  •  Research Paper  •  2,982 Words (12 Pages)  •  1,726 Views

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Executive Summary

Since the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, concerns about the potential for nuclear terrorism have risen dramatically. The consequences of an act of nuclear terrorism would be devastating in many respects- human, social, psychological, economic, and political. Nuclear terrorism could take many forms, any one of which would be a disaster by any measure. However, some would potentially be more devastating than others. The reason I have chosen nuclear terrorism is because nuclear weapons pose the biggest threat to the security of the nation being that the underground market for the weapons is large and unregulated.

This paper will summarize two different scenarios that comprise the nuclear terrorist threat and will conclude with some recommendations and policy on how to prevent nuclear terrorism. The two scenarios I will discuss are 1) buying or stealing a nuclear weapon, and 2) air strikes. I will discuss the likelihood of an attack happening without warning and go into some detail on what a nuclear reactor actually is and what has gone into the design to keep us safe. The purpose of this research paper is to analyze and outline two different potential scenarios for nuclear terrorism and discuss the possible implications of a nuclear terrorist attack.

The United States still has a long way to go in preventing and deterring a possible nuclear terror attack. This paper will discuss what policies we currently have in place as well as some of the vulnerabilities. I plan to show that more attention needs to be given to this threat and that it needs to be taken more seriously. The terrorist threats we have had over the past decade prove that terrorism is still very much at the forefront and the most detrimental of all attacks (nuclear) should be researched and studied more.


As stated above, more needs to be done to protect our nuclear plants from another terrorist attack. Nuclear power plants have long been recognized as potential targets of terrorist attacks, and many people have questioned the adequacy of the measures required of nuclear plant operators to defend against such attacks.

There was a prevailing view in the U.S. that the risk of nuclear war was low because the U.S. would respond vigilantly to nuclear threats posed by other nations. This view has changed significantly over the years due to the rapid proliferation of nuclear technology, the changing nature of nuclear technology, and the upsurge in worldwide terrorism during the past decade. There has been great debate in this country on how serious the threat really is. "Several provisions to increase nuclear reactor security were included in the Energy Policy Act of 2005." "The law requires NRC to conduct "force-on-force" security exercises at nuclear power plants at least once every three years and to revise the "design basis threat" (DBT) that nuclear plant security forces must be able to meet, among other measures."

Since the middle of the twentieth century, the United States has been under the threat of a potential nuclear attack. "Although this threat dates back to the Cold War and its arms proliferation, little has actually been done to protect the country against such an attack. The reason for this inactivity is that during the Cold War the focus was on the arms race". However, this theory is no longer applicable in the new threat of terrorist nuclear attacks. In order to protect the country from this new threat, new defense strategies must be implemented.

Under the current state of world affairs, it is generally accepted by the leading defense analysis teams that it would be relatively easy for a terrorist organization to both introduce and detonate a nuclear explosive within the borders of the United States of America. It is agreed that such an attack would most likely occur in or near a major metropolitan area. In such a situation, the effects would be devastating as the explosion would kill many people and destroy the infrastructure, politics, culture and economy of the nation. These repercussions, including a counter attack that could possibly also involve the use of nuclear weapons, would affect the history of the world in potentially catastrophic manners.

Knowing that this general threat exists, the United States must take steps in developing a defense strategy. As with any time of war, the central component is the competition between offense and defense. One of the core areas of possible defensive strategy is the use of a national missile defense system.

By taking these steps now, the result would be to essentially take the use of a nuclear attack away from the terrorist, essentially preventing its emergence as a form of warfare. However, because of the diversity in the nuclear threat, the nation cannot rely on one single form of defense. Instead, the national government needs to work with the international community in order to create and implement an effective, multi-element, layered, international complex of systems that spreads between both the military and the civilian factions and thus capable of reducing the likelihood of any form of successful nuclear attack.

Methodology/Literature Review

There has been much research done in this field already. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has strengthened its regulations on nuclear reactor security, but critics contend that implementation by the industry has been too slow and further measures are needed.

In "Critical Path", Kathi Brown reviews the history of U.S. critical infrastructure protection and speaks in depth about new threats and new vulnerabilities in a post cold war. Although she does not go into detail specifically on the nuclear terrorist threat, I was able to gain much information from her knowledge and research on terrorist initiatives in general and some of the common threads to look for with these incidents.

Wildavsky spoke a lot about safety in nuclear power plants and whether more safety devices really added up to more safety. He discussed how many times one safety system may interfere with another, but does not rule out adding more safety devices. He proposes a more careful examination of the circumstances under which various strategies work best. In speaking about safety at nuclear plants Wildavsky says "The complexity of nuclear power plants makes safety measures difficult to analyze." In the wake of terrorist activities this is a great vulnerability that I believe should be examined in more detail.

Charles Perrow talks about at least 30 threats against nuclear plants between 1978 and 2000. Perrow also does a great job of pointing out the specific



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