Flirting with Disaster

By Stone, Daniel | Newsweek, January 17, 2011 | Go to article overview

Flirting with Disaster


Stone, Daniel, Newsweek


Byline: Daniel Stone

Every few years the defenses of the nation's nuclear plants are tested. What's scary is how often they fail.

In early 2009 a team of terrorists managed to enter a nuclear-power plant in the American South armed with machine guns and grenade launchers. After breaking through chain-link and barbed-wire gates, they battled with the plant's guards. Those terrorists who weren't killed were able to disable a critical component of the plant's operating hardware. A meltdown of the reactor core looked imminent, as did the release of radioactive material from waste-storage pools located on-site. The surrounding area faced catastrophic fallout.

Everything up to that point actually happened--sort of. In reality, the attackers were a group of highly trained government operatives--including security consultants and military members on leave--posing as terrorists. Every three years, such teams "attack" each of the country's 104 nuclear-power plants to find weak spots in security. The raids are carefully choreographed: plant managers are given two months' notice to prepare the guards, and the intruders follow a prearranged script to evade them. Still, eight times out of roughly 100 attempts over the past five years, the mock terror teams have successfully broken through those defenses.

Government regulators insist that such failures are, in a way, intentional. The whole point is to find potential security holes and plug them. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the federal agency that oversees the industry, insists that inspectors remain on-site until security systems are fixed, and that American nuclear plants are safer than ever. But industry watchdogs aren't so sure. A growing number of plants are nearing the end of their operating lifetimes, and details about the security of existing facilities are classified. "The industry is hiding behind the 9/11 tragedy to withhold information--like which plants have failed tests and repairs that have been made--that should be available," says David Lochbaum, a nuclear analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Worries are particularly acute because the nuclear-energy industry is experiencing a new era of growth. In his State of the Union address in 2010, President Obama asked Congress to consider nuclear power central to America's pursuit of energy security. A month later he proposed $8 billion in loan guarantees to begin building a handful of new plants. "To meet our growing energy needs and prevent the worst consequences of climate change, we'll need to increase our supply of nuclear power," he told a warehouse full of hard hats in Lanham, Md., in mid-February. Leading Democrats, who have generally resisted an expansion of nuclear facilities on safety grounds, were slow to agree. Then, early last month, Energy Secretary Steven Chu agreed to classify nuclear as "clean energy" in hopes of wooing Republicans to pass an energy bill in 2011.

Advanced technology has virtually eliminated the risk of accidental meltdowns, like the one at Chernobyl in 1986, adding repetitive safeguards that allow the plant to shut itself down if operators can't. The bigger problem is the highly radioactive waste that is left over once most of the energy-producing juice has been sucked out of it.

Used nuclear fuel looks like a bunch of black ceramic pellets--each about the size of a Tootsie Roll. They're a mix of uranium, plutonium, and several minor chemicals, and give off about 750 degrees Fahrenheit of heat. The raw material can't be held, or easily stolen to make a dirty bomb. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • A full archive of books and articles related to this one
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Flirting with Disaster
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

    Already a member? Log in now.