POGO has learned that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is in the process of making a decision that could improve the security of nuclear power plants. This comes at a time when President-elect Obama has put the expansion of nuclear power on the front burner of his agenda.
The Commissioners are in the process of voting whether to implement a more robust Design Basis Threat (DBT), which was recommended in a classified memo written by the NRC staff. The DBT describes the level of threat the protective force at nuclear power plants are required to defend against, such as the number of outside attackers and inside conspirators, and the kinds of weapons and size of truck bombs that would be available to terrorists.
"While POGO has not seen the staff memo, our sources tell us that it is a step in the right direction," says Peter Stockton, POGO Senior Investigator.
For years, POGO has been critical of how the NRC has defined its DBT. NRC Commissioners watered down the original staff-proposed security standards based on the misguided belief that they should only ask of the nuclear industry what can be expected of a private security force. The NRC Commissioners had removed commonly-used weapons from the DBT, including rocket propelled grenades (RPGs), and 50-caliber sniper rifles with armor-piercing rounds. Also, the NRC has been requiring nuclear power plants to protect against only a handful of terrorists because the agency did not believe a terrorist cell would target a nuclear power plant.
The GAO concluded that the result of the NRC’s changes to the DBT was a completely unrealistic DBT that reflects not what intelligence estimates dictate but, instead, what industry is willing to pay for. Unlike the DOE, the NRC had denied the reasonableness of basing the DBT on the postulated threat. POGO, however, has sources who are intimately familiar with the creation of the postulated threat and who believe it is reasonable.
POGO has had numerous meetings with the Commissioners and staff regarding problems with its DBT and has found that they have no ability to defend this current irresponsible DBT and that it needs to be strengthened.