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NPPP Reiterates DOD Relationship to Report

August 21, 2013

Prof. Alan J. Kuperman, Coordinator of the NPPP, today issued the following statement:

Some commentators, unaffiliated with the NPPP, have mischaracterized the recent NPPP working paper on nuclear security – “Protecting U.S. Nuclear Facilities from Terrorist Attack: Re-assessing the Current ‘Design Basis Threat’ Approach” – as produced or released by the Pentagon. The working paper was written for, submitted to, and partially funded by the Department of Defense, as part of a larger inter-disciplinary study at the University of Texas at Austin on Nuclear Risk Assessment and Rare Event Characterization, under a DOD contract. The report was released publicly by the NPPP, not by the Pentagon, which did not produce the report. This statement reiterates the origins of the working paper, as stated clearly on its cover page and as further elucidated at the press event of August 15, 2013.

New NPPP Study: U.S. Nuclear Facilities Vulnerable to Terrorist Attack

In a July 2013 paper and presentation at the annual meeting of the Institute of Nuclear Materials Management, the NPPP reports that some U.S. nuclear facilities are inadequately protected against theft of weapons-grade materials and sabotage by terrorists.  The INMM paper and presentation are both based on a longer NPPP Working Paper #1 — “Protecting U.S. Nuclear Facilities from Terrorist Attack: Re-assessing the Current ‘Design Basis Threat’ Approach” — co-authored by former NPPP graduate research assistant Lara Kirkham and NPPP coordinator Alan J. Kuperman.

The NPPP notes that nuclear power plants are not required to protect against a credible terrorist attack such as occurred on September 11, 2001.  Even some U.S. government nuclear facilities are not protected against a credible threat because security officials argue that terrorists do not value the sites or that the consequences would not be catastrophic. To the contrary, the paper explains, it is impossible to know which high-value nuclear targets are preferred by terrorists, or which attacks would have the gravest consequences.

Accordingly, the NPPP recommends that Washington should require a level of protection at all potentially high-consequence U.S. nuclear targets – including both power reactors and facilities with bomb-grade material – that is sufficient to defend against a maximum credible terrorist attack.  To meet this standard at commercial facilities, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission should upgrade its “design basis threat,” and the U.S. government should provide the requisite additional security that is not supplied by the private-sector licensees.