Two of the terrorists responsible for the bombings in Brussels have been linked to a possible plot on nuclear facilities uncovered by Belgian security back in February. Police found hours of video footage tracking a senior nuclear scientist, causing heightened security over the past several weeks at two nuclear power plants and evacuation of non-essential staff after this week’s bombings.
According to Interior Minister Jan Jambon after the February discovery, there was a threat:
to the person in question, but not the nuclear facilities…To date, we have no indication that there is a specific threat to the Belgian nuclear sites. The nuclear industry is one of the best protected areas.
There’s a good reason terrorist attempts involving nuclear power plants fail and are rarely a target for attack: Nuclear power plants are incredibly secure with multiple layers of protection.
This is especially so in the United States. Nuclear power plants in America are safe and have adapted to every changing security threats, whether in the wake of Sept. 11th, 2001 or ever-present cybersecurity issues. According to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, “they are among the best-protected sector of our national infrastructure.”
In addition to regulation and inspection by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the nuclear industry also self-regulates and shares best practices through the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations.
Nuclear power plants regularly engage in mock force-on-force assaults to train and hone security officers to protect essential components of nuclear plants and public safety. According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, these exercises “ include an assault by one or more determined and capable adversary forces attacking by land or water, truck bombs, boat bombs, insider threats and cyber attacks.”
All nuclear plant employees also undergo background checks in cooperation with the federal Terrorist Screening Center and plants are required to have secure screened access to facilities.
The actual physical plant is also designed to withstand security threats. Layers of reinforced steel and concrete surround nuclear reactors and fuel storage to protect the public from physical attacks, radiation, and natural disasters. Based on Nuclear Regulatory Commission research and modeling done for the Electric Power Research Institute, nuclear power plants would survive a commercial passenger airline collision.
Physical barriers protect sensitive areas and nuclear plants house redundant safety systems in the case of emergencies. Nuclear power operators are also required to maintain emergency response plans with local, state, and federal levels of government.
As Heritage Foundation national security expert James Carafano has written:
The first question security professionals around the world ask after a horrific terrorist attack is: What’s next? The second question is: How to stop it?
Moving forward, the U.S. must take steps to learn from Europe’s security mistakes. But Americans should be assured that nuclear power plants have and continue to do their due diligence to protect facilities and the public.