Nuclear Terrorism: Fear vs. Reality

By Terrell, Rebecca | The New American, June 20, 2016 | Go to article overview

Nuclear Terrorism: Fear vs. Reality


Terrell, Rebecca, The New American


Some fear nuclear Armageddon should terrorists strike a nuclear power plant. But radiation phobias are wreaking far greater havoc than any terrorist could possibly dream.

There is a popular misconception that inside every nuclear power plant lies a mushroom cloud waiting to happen. It follows that a 9/11-style terrorist attack on any of them would impose nuclear holocaust, spewing deadly radiation far and wide and ending life as we know it.

Major media certainly peddles such propaganda. In April the New York Times published an op-ed entitled "Could there be a terrorist Fukushima?," which pointed to an al-Qaeda training manual that lists nuclear plants "as among the best targets for spreading fear in the United States." It's worth noting that the manual reads "spreading fear" rather than "spreading radiation." Let's look at an example of the policy in practice.

Al-Qaeda officials claimed to have considered nuclear targets in their 9/11 plot. Arrested as the principal architect of those attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed told Arabic television al-Jazeera that his cabal decided against striking nuclear facilities "for fear it would go out of control." But in the next breath, the Islamic terrorist tipped his hand, explaining the attacks "were designed to cause as many deaths as possible." Was he expecting us to believe that nuclear Armageddon would slay fewer people than crashing airliners into skyscrapers? Or was he laughing up his sleeve at public neurosis of radiation, knowing well that talk of targeting nuclear plants would wreak far more havoc than the act itself?

The duplicitous Mohammed undoubtedly realized the likely outcome of attacking a nuclear facility, as would anyone who reads publically available information on the International Atomic Energy Agency's website. Nuclear engineer Bruno Comby, president of Environmentalists for Nuclear Energy and renowned industry spokesman, writes that even a jetliner flown into a nuclear power plant would "have much smaller effects and casualties than the same airplane on any inhabited large building of any city."

A nuclear power plant's containment building is many times smaller than a skyscraper, making it a difficult target to hit. And unlike a glass-and-metal building, its walls form a dome more than three feet thick of heavily reinforced concrete, meaning that if a plane hits at much less than perpendicular to the horizon, "It will probably just bounce off the side and hardly damage the external structure at all."

Moreover, plants in the United States and Europe are known as "light water re-actors," which means they use water as a moderator and coolant. In water reactors, the laws of physics dictate that all nuclear reactions stop when the moderator/coolant is lost. This further reduces the likelihood of catastrophe, even if an airplane damaged a reactor. Additionally, other automatic and independent security measures are in place, though "specific preventive systems are [our] best kept secret," nuclear engineer Dan Meneley of Ontario, Canada told The New American. "The wise defender will never reveal just what those obstacles are. But nuclear plant owners understand the risks of plant damage posed by any enemy, from field mice to ballistic rocket teams, and from occasional visitors to full-time employees." In other words, nuclear plants are prepared for both external attack and internal sabotage.

But what would happen if the fanciful worst-case scenario occurred--i.e., a jet manages to strike a containment structure precisely in the middle, get all the way through it, penetrate the steel-and-concrete-reinforced reactor vessel, and terrorists simultaneously impair multiple redundant safety systems? "The problems caused would be similar to what we saw at Three Mile Island: no deaths, no injuries, just an expensive meltdown to contend with," says The New American contributor Ed Hiserodt, author of the 2005 book Under-Exposed: What if Radiation Is Actually Good for You? …

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