Statement of Senator Jim Jeffords
Legislative Hearing on Nuclear Security
June 5, 2002
We have before us the very important task of reviewing legislation that will enhance security at our nation's nuclear power plants and other civilian facilities that utilize radioactive materials for commercial or research purposes.
In his State of the Union address, President Bush informed us that authorities had found, among other things, diagrams of American nuclear power plants in terrorist caves, along with surveillance maps of American cities.
In February, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, responding to FBI reports, issued a warning of potential airliner attacks against a U.S. nuclear power plant.
Numerous media accounts have analyzed in detail the possibility of creating "dirty bombs," from a combination of readily available commercial sources of radiation, and common explosives.
We all know that the credibility of these threats is inherently difficult to pinpoint, but we all also know that the seriousness with which they must be viewed has changed forever since the events of September 11th. These are sobering times.
I commend the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, whose Chairman, Richard Meserve is with us this morning, for the prompt and comprehensive efforts of that agency to address threats to our civilian nuclear facilities. I have been briefed on the fact that they have placed our nation's commercial nuclear reactors on the highest state of alert since September 11th, and that they are conducting a top-to-bottom review of their safeguards and security program. This includes working closely with the intelligence community and others to coordinate all necessary programs.
They have also established a new Office of Nuclear Security and Incident Response to consolidate certain NRC security functions. They have assured us that they are taking every precaution to ensure the safety of our nuclear facilities.
I am also aware however of a variety of criticisms and concerns that have been leveled at safety procedures at our nuclear facilities in the past.
In spite of as much as six months advance notice, up to half our nation's nuclear power plants have performed below the NRC's minimum security requirements during NRC-sponsored mock terrorist activities. Because of resource constraints, the NRC has tested security at each nuclear power plant only once every eight years.
The current design basis threat, which sets standards for actions facilities must take to defend against attack, has not been significantly revised in over 40 years, and did not envision the type of terrorist attacks we now assume are possible following the events of September 11th. There are significant concerns both about the design of plants, the ability to defend against insider sabotage, and the location of spent fuel pools.
Former employees have complained of inadequate training and background checks of security guards and other personnel. These inconsistencies must be reviewed and remedied.
We must take strong and focused action to ensure that terrorists continue to view our nuclear power plants as undesirable targets, targets that are strongly protected and difficult to damage.
It is the duty of this Congress, and this Committee in particular, to make sure that the there is effective coordination and cooperation between licensees, the NRC, appropriate Federal agencies, and State and local governments in preventing criminal and terrorist access to our nuclear power plants and radioactive materials.
As the House and Senate, in cooperation with the Administration, proceed this week with intelligence hearings on the events leading up to the September 11th attacks, this need for effective coordination among the various agencies responsible for security is starkly highlighted.
We have been warned. We know these are possible targets. We know there have been problems in the past. We must allocate the resources to fully address these concerns. A single successful attack would make it clear, in hindsight, that it would have been worth the effort.
It is my intent to work with my colleagues on this Committee and with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to quickly pass legislation out of this Committee that will ensure strong, consistent and reliable standards for protection of our civilian nuclear facilities. We cannot and will not allow the fear factor to hamper our communities.
It is necessary for the public to know that strong measures are in place to protect their homes and families against attack by those who hate us and our way of life. As Chairman of this Committee, I intend to see such measures taken. I trust I will have the full support of the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission and my colleagues in this important matter.