Australian news, and some related international items

The dangers of high powered guns near nuclear facilities

nuclear-target-chainBigger guns, bigger problems? How high-powered ammunition could affect nuclear power plants May 9, 2016 By TERI SFORZA / STAFF WRITER, Orange County Register,   Shortly after the horrors of 9/11, a curious package landed on Dave Lochbaum’s desk.

It was flat but heavy. Inside the bubble pack was a battered steel plate, blasted with dents and holes from semiautomatic weapons fire. Each pockmark and perforation was carefully labeled – by hand, in permanent ink – with the type of ammunition used to produce it.

Security forces at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station and nuclear plants nationwide had increased their firepower to take on a more formidable terrorist threat. The steel plate, sent by a San Onofre security manager, graphically illustrated what Lochbaum, a nuclear engineer, considered a potentially devastating, increased risk:

More powerful ammunition meant to protect nuclear reactors was capable of piercing control panels and critical piping.

The concern doesn’t appear to have been publicly disclosed at the time, but it resurfaced recently after the Nuclear Regulatory Commission allowed nuclear security forces to override state and local gun control laws and possess high-powered weaponry that would otherwise be banned.

Government documents – provided by the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit watchdog that keeps a critical eye on the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission in Washington, D.C. – offer a rare glimpse intoefforts to secure America’s nuclear power plants that occur out of the public eye and the controversies that can simmer behind the scenes.

Critics maintain that not enough is being done to protect plants and the public. Their issue is not whether those guarding nuclear plants should have high-powered weaponry, but about how much additional security training and hardening of facilities should be required to reduce the risk of collateral damage.

An accidental discharge, friendly fire or all-out firefight during a terrorist attack could potentially cripple a working reactor and release dangerous radiation, experts said.

Risks are different at shuttered plants like San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station because there’s no reactor core to melt down. But millions of pounds of nuclear waste remain on site, cooled and protected by intricate technologies that sit beyond the thick containment domes.

The NRC has allowed San Onofre to dial back its emergency plans because it no longer splits atoms, a move that many critics opposed. Operating nuclear plants must work up detailed responses to four levels of emergency, but San Onofre owner Southern California Edison no longer has to prepare for the worst two.

Nuclear power plant security is a nationwide concern. Nearly one-third of Americans – 96 million – live within 50 miles of such facilities, according to the U.S. Census Bureau………

Plant security must defend against attackers whose goal is to damage or disable safety-related equipment, the letter said. Because such attackers would likely be armed with automatic weapons with high-powered ammunition, the guards must have comparable equipment……..

Concerns remain, however.

“We have upgraded security at America’s nuclear plants and made it much harder for bad guys to cause mayhem, and that’s good,” Lochbaum said. “But there’s all kinds of equipment that could inadvertently be damaged, and not much training on what security officers should try not to hit. ”………

May 11, 2016 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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