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Nuclear Terrorism
Sabotage and Terrorism of Nuclear Power Plants

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North Gate

Why won't this NRC approved vehicle barrier prevent a terrorist truck bomb attack?

Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Ivan Selin tells a congressional committee that a bomb in the parking lot is "not our problem." 1993
(Real Audio 110kb)

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The threat of nuclear terrorism most often brings images of a city totally flattened and incinerated by a nuclear bomb. While many focus on the problems associated with stolen weapons-grade nuclear materials, particularly those originating from the former Soviet Union, the greater threat may actually be an attack against a nuclear power plant. Terrorists would be able to skip the formidable task of assembling or stealing a nuclear bomb. There are more than a few terrorist experts who believe that a nuclear power plant will be successfully assaulted before terrorists have the ability to deliver a nuclear weapon.

"The security guards at half the nuclear power plants in the United States have failed to repel mock terrorist attacks against safety systems designed to prevent a reactor meltdown. These are so-called "force-on-force" exercises supervised by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The NRC refuses to take enforcement action in response to the failures, and is in the process of weakening the rules of the game in response to industry complaints. Sabotage of nuclear power plants may be the greatest domestic vulnerability in the United States today. This is the time to strengthen, not weaken, nuclear regulation."

Paul Leventhal
Commencement Address Franklin & Marshall College 2001

"America's Defense Monitor" (PBS)
The Center for Defense Information Paul Leventhal of the Nuclear Control Institute says that nuclear plants provide means for a nuclear attack
(Real Audio 91kb)

Considering the fact that a nuclear plant houses more than a thousand times the radiation as released in an atomic bomb blast, the magnitude of a single attack could reach beyond 100,000 deaths and the immediate loss of tens of billions of dollars. The land and properties destroyed (your insurance won't cover nuclear disasters) would remain useless for decades and would become a stark monument reminding the world of the terrorists' ideology. With more than 100 reactors in the United States alone, if one is successfully destroyed, just threatening additional attacks could instill the sort of high-impact terror which is being sought by a new breed of terrorists.

Many nuclear "watchdogs" are convinced that nuclear plants are the "soft-underbelly" of national security and represent attractive targets to enemies of the United States who do not have sophisticated weapons of war. The "Physicians for Social Responsibility" have called nuclear plants "land mines waiting to be stepped upon." Currently, the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission does not require commercial nuclear power plants to defend against "Enemies of the United States." There is no potential for a thermo-nuclear explosion at an electrical generating nuclear plant, but a powerful steam explosion could suddenly eject enormous amounts of radioactive particles into the atmosphere.

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission has a long history of security problems. Federal oversight committees and reports by the US Government Accounting Office have been extremely critical of security within the nuclear power industry. Because of recent events and the continuing vulnerabilities which must be addressed; and because the NRC has now reduced certain security regulations, we believe it is now necessary for public disclosure and public pressure to compel the NRC to close these security gaps.

The Nuclear Control Institute, The Committee to Bridge the Gap, and more recently Three Mile Island Alert has successfully lobbied the NRC to finally require vehicle barriers. But, the new regulations are a watered-down version of what is really necessary to preclude a truck bomb attack.

Nuclear weapons designer Ted Taylor says it it easy to turn a nuclear plant into a nuclear weapon. Real Video

This web site produced by:

Three Mile Island Alert, Inc.
(TMIA is a non-profit organization)

Security Committee Chairman
Scott D. Portzline

c/o 315 Peffer St.
Harrisburg, PA 17102
717 233-7897
Threats, sabotage incidents and security deficiencies at nuclear plants are described at this web site. We have testified to The United States Senate, The Pennsylvania House of Representatives, The United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and The Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguard. Our reseach has been cited by the United States Department of Energy and various United States military branches Permission to publish the text originating from this web site is granted conditional to citing this web site or the Three Mile Island Alert Security Committee as the source.


For years, what has caused concern for many observers and several federal oversight committees is a report on the potential for damage from truck bombs. Shortly after the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut, the NRC commissioned "An Analysis of Truck Bombs Threats at Nuclear Facilities" which was performed by the Sandia National Laboratories in 1984. The study concluded:

"An Analysis of Truck Bombs Threats at Nuclear Facilities"

Sandia National Laboratories 1984
"Unacceptable damage to vital reactor systems could occur from a relatively small charge at close setback distances, and from larger but still reasonable-sized charges at large setback distances, greater than the protected area for most plants."

This represented the NRC's most feared result. At some plants, a large bomb detonated offsite can cause enough damage to lead to a deadly release of radiation or even a meltdown! Instead of taking steps for proper protection, the NRC hid the findings from the public and announced that the study was ongoing. Yet two years later in 1986, the NRC commissioners voted 3-2 to continue assuming that a terrorist would not deliver a bomb by vehicle; hence, no vehicle barriers to prevent the intrusion at Three Mile Island. Some plants are too small to erect barriers with proper setback distances. Three Mile Island is one of the smallest plants in the nation.

The FBI's counter terrorism expert Dale Watson explains that a truck bomb is still the weapon of choice used by terrorists.
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Robert Pollard, a former NRC engineer now retired from the "Union of Concerned Scientists," said in a Harrisburg Patriot-News interview, "There is sufficient information in the public domain that someone with some degree of knowledge of plant designs can relatively easily sabotage [a] plant if they gain access to the site."

The NRC has known about this problem since 1975 when a systems analyst wrote a now classified report on using publicly available documents to plan an act sabotage. Up until that time, the NRC had not taken the sabotage issue seriously. The author described scenarios where a saboteur wouldn't need sophisticated tools or explosives. He says that he included only common tools found at any hardware store to write the report. He even used things like popsicle sticks. "A janitor could be trained to do it. And there are things he could do to be sure it's irreversible," he said at a Sandia National Laboratories safety conference when he presented the report 20 years ago. The author does not now have a copy of his report. Every once in a while he checks to see if it is still classified. He wants a copy if it becomes available.

At the time when he made this statement, he believed that it was easy to sabotage a plant. Now he realizes that it's even easier than he first thought. He said that he dreams up other clever ways from time to time. In fact, the Sandia National Laboratories have concluded that "there is still virtually no protection from sabotage acts of an insider."

The Union of Concerned Scientists knows of more than 120 acts of sabotage at US nuclear plants. Most of these acts were perpetrated by disgruntled workers at every level of employment including control room operators and security guards. Employees have cut electrical cables, dumped chemicals into fuel pools and water systems, set fires, drilled holes in equipment, smashed security cameras, sabotaged diesel generators and committed numerous other offenses. The NRC has a "two-man" rule which is supposed to prevent sabotage by permitting entrance into vital areas only if accompanied by a co-worker. But, not all of the plants follow these rules to the letter.

Forty days after the accident at Three Mile Island, control room operators at the Surry plant in Virginia poured sodium hydroxide onto new fuel assemblies. The fuel was stored in an area which was locked and alarmed. The NRC notified other plants that the FBI was on-site conducting an extensive investigation. They also warned that this incident "could possibly provoke similar behavior on the part of other persons."

During labor negotiations at the Salem plant in New Jersey, someone intentionally tripped a steam generator feedwater pump. To a small degree, this event imitated the Three Mile Island trip which led to the accident three years prior.

In 1981 a major portion of the emergency core cooling system was disabled at the Beaver Valley nuclear plant in Pennsylvania. Someone sabotaged the emergency diesel generators at the Nine Mile Point reactor in New York the same year.

On January 3, 1961 a love triangle apparently got in the way of research at an experimental reactor in Idaho with a grizzly display of destruction. Three men were at work on top of the reactor. One of the workers intentionally caused a damaging condition known as a power excursion by withdrawing a control rod too far. The nuclear reaction rapidly increased and the resulting steam explosion destroyed the reactor, killing the saboteur and the two other workers. At first only two bodies could be found. The other body was impaled by a control rod through the groin, out the shoulder and pinned to the roof. The dead men were highly contaminated and could not receive a normal funeral and burial. This event was classified a murder/suicide.


There have been numerous events at US plants that raise concerns. Safeguarded documents including portions of security plans stored on computer disks have disappeared. The Millstone plant in Connecticut has lost security documents on numerous occasions in what may have been an organized effort to steal the entire plan. After each incident, the licensee claimed that there was no significant damage to security.

Security guards have attempted or committed suicide at several plants. A document control worker was murdered at the Catawba plant in South Carolina. A recent "Unsolved Mysteries" television program asked for any information about a suspicious death at a uranium processing plant in Fernald Ohio. A worker may have been murdered by incineration in what the show called a nuclear furnace.

At the Turkey Point plant in Florida, a security guard accidentally discharged his gun. The bullet pierced his truck. Realizing that this would result in his dismissal, he attempted to cover-up the accident by faking a shoot-out. He told his superiors that while patrolling the shoreline, he stumbled upon drug dealers in boats. To help his story along, he shot more holes in the truck.

At the Comanche Peak plant in Texas, a security officer was found bound, gagged and unconscious on the roof of a fire protection building. Her weapon lay 25 feet away. The investigation has not yet been closed because this incident may have also been faked.

Central alarm station wires were cut at the South Texas plant by an employee who was about to be laid off. A firewatch employee at Braidwood Illinois vandalized wires and fire proofing. Someone tampered with a fire protection valve at the Clinton plant also located in Illinois.


Operation Desert Storm forces destroyed Iraq's experimental reactor to slow down Saddam's supposedly secret nuclear program. But, this wasn't the first time that Iraq has lost a reactor at the hands of another government. One week after the March 28, 1979 partial meltdown at Three Mile Island (fuel melted twice), a reactor under manufacture in France for Iraq was destroyed by powerful explosives. The Mossad was responsible for this 3:00 a.m. clandestine operation where the saboteurs were able to elude multiple security guards. To conceal their involvement, the Mossad made bogus calls to the media claiming to be French ecologists who were trying to "save the world from future Harrisburgs." French bomb investigators proclaimed from the beginning that the three blasts looked like the work of "well-organized professionals." The Mossad should have invented a better cover story than blaming environmentalists; after all, how many "tree huggers" had plastic explosives in 1979?

In 1985, four North Korean commandos were killed by a South Korean naval patrol when they attempted to come ashore near a nuclear power plant. At the Koeberg plant near Cape Town South Africa, guerrillas penetrated the heavily guarded plant and damaged the control room. Plants in Spain and Argentina have also experienced control room takeovers. The French Super Phenix (sic) plant fell under attack by rocket-propelled grenades and anti-tank missiles. (Plants built in the United States are not designed to withstand this type of an attack.) Fortunately, all of these plants were non-operational when the assaults occurred.

$10,000 Reward
Someone rendered important safety equipment unusable by pouring glue into three lockable switches on the backup control panel at Florida Power and Light Company's St. Lucie nuclear power plant on August 14, 1996. The back-up control room is used to gain control of a plant during an emergency if the main control room is not working or uninhabitable. If the reactor could not be controlled from the main control room, the loss of the switches could have been devastating.

The company is offering a $10,000 reward for information that would lead to the arrest and conviction of the saboteur. FBI and NRC investigators are examining records and conducting interviews in an attempt to find the culprit. Meanwhile, security has been "beefed-up" at the Crystal River and Turkey Point nuclear plants also located in Florida. Three weeks prior to this act of sabotage, someone glued locker doors shut at St. Lucie. It is possible that a disgruntled employee is upset with the cost-cutting measures that some employees are alleging by Florida Power and Light.

Guard Fired

A security guard employed by the Wackenhut Corporation at the Indain Point Nuclear plant near New York City (Wackenhut also guards TMI) was fired when he was asked to work his sixth straight day of 12 hour shifts.

The guard stated to Wackenhut in writing that it would be ``physically and mentally exhausting,'' that he was fully aware of his condition, and that he ``would not want to be negligent in performing [his] duties as a security officer.''

Nuclear plants have formal policy and written procedures for factors that could render plant workers unfit for duty - - "fatigue" is specifically mentioned in the code of federal regulations.
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TMI Alert Chairman Eric Epstein says terrorism could happen at Three Mile Island
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"We should expect conflicts in which adversaries, because of cultural affinities different from our own, will resort to forms and levels of violence shocking to our sensibilities."

The United States Commission on National Security / 21st Century
September 15, 1999

Favorite Links

Three Mile Island Alert
Lost and Stolen Nuclear Materials in the United States
The Nuclear Control Institute
Terrorism of Nuclear Waste Shipments
The Nuke Next Door
Nuclear Information Resource Service (NIRSNET)
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
Todd's Atomic Home Page
U.S. Intelligence Community
The Center for Defense Information
IAEA: International Atomic Energy Organization
U.S. : Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Canada: Atomic Energy Control Board
Rocky Flats Grand Jury Secret Report

webmaster: Scott D. Portzline

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Civil Defense Radiation Detection Survey Meters, Geiger Counters and Dosimeters FAQ!
Straight FAQ's on FEMA Surplus Civil Defense Meters with Retail and Wholesale Sources Listed!

Comprehensive Potassium Iodide Anti-Radiation Pill FAQ with up-to-date iodine sources listed & prices
for Potassium Iodide (KI) tablets, Potasium Iodate (KIO3) pills, and all forms of radiation protection iodine!