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Security

Nuclear reactors are sitting-duck targets, poorly protected and vulnerable to sabotage or attack. If their radioactive inventories were released in the event of a serious attack, hundreds of thousands of people could die immediately, or later, due to radiation sickness or latent cancers. Vast areas of the U.S. could become national sacrifice zones - an outcome too serious to risk. Beyond Nuclear advocates for the shutdown of nuclear power.

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Entries by admin (58)

Wednesday
Feb212018

North Korea poised to launch large-scale cyberattacks, says new report

As reported by Anna Fifield in the Washington Post.

In late 2014, a major hack of the South Korean nuclear power industry was reported. The top suspect was the North Korean regime.

As but one of likely many such examples, in response to revelations of cyber-security vulnerabilities at its Palisades atomic reactor in Michigan, Entergy Nuclear has requested exemptions from cyber-security regulations. Dangerously, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission can be expected to rubber-stamp any such requests.

Friday
Dec082017

A Yemeni rebel claim highlights the risk of nuclear power in the Middle East

As reported by Ali Ahmad in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.

The article begins:

Earlier this week, Yemen’s Houthi rebel group claimed it had launched a missile at the Barakah nuclear power plant in the western region of Abu Dhabi, in retaliation for the Saudi-led blockade imposed on Yemen. Abu Dhabi is part of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a member of the coalition that has been targeting the Houthis.

UAE officials immediately denied that the attack had taken place, and the Houthis have not provided any evidence to support their claim. However, regardless of the claim’s validity, and despite the lack of evidence, the incident is emblematic of the dangers of nuclear power in the Middle East. The UAE should take it very seriously. Even if this “attack” was merely a propaganda ploy, nuclear power facilities will always be potential targets for enemy states and non-state actors, including terrorist groups. In the Middle East, in particular, there is a history of attacks on nuclear sites during regional conflicts.

The article also warns that "rosy projections about nuclear power’s benefits gloss over the major security vulnerability the plant will create."

It continues:

The country’s National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority has said that "the UAE's air defense system is capable of dealing with any threats.” But downplaying the vulnerability of the site and the security risks of nuclear power could prove to be very costly. Nuclear power plants are natural targets in armed conflicts, particularly with the emergence of non-state actors such as Yemen’s Houthis.

The article concludes:

The issue of security is one of the reasons Israel has refrained from building nuclear power plants on its territory, although it has two small reactors, ostensibly for research. There is reason for caution, as the Middle East has a history of attacks on nuclear facilities, including one launched by Israel itself: In 1980, Iran bombed the under-construction Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq but failed to destroy it; a year later, an attack by the Israeli air force succeeded in reducing the reactor to rubble. Likewise, Iraq repeatedly bombed the partially-completed Bushehr nuclear plant in Iran during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s.

Because these reactors were still under construction, the attacks did not lead to a release of radiation, but there have also been attacks on Israel’s Dimona reactor in the southern Negev desert. In 1991, Iraq fired Scud missiles at the reactor, but missed the target. Today, the facility is in missile range from Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Although the site is heavily protected, in 2012 the Israel Atomic Energy Commission announced that the reactor would be shut down should war break out, to minimize danger from attacks.

Given this history, and the potentially catastrophic consequences of a successful attack on a nuclear facility, the UAE and other Middle Eastern countries should seriously consider the risks when deciding whether to pursue their own forays into nuclear power.

See the full article. 

The article echos warning made by Bennett Ramberg in his 1984 book Nuclear Power Plants as Weapons for the Enemy: An Unrecognized Military Peril.

Ali Ahmad is a scholar-in-residence and director of the Energy Policy and Security Program at the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut. His work covers nuclear security, energy policy, and economics, with a focus on the Middle East. Prior to joining AUB, Ali was a research fellow at Princeton University's Program on Science and Global Security, where he studied prospects for nuclear energy in the Middle East and nuclear diplomacy with Iran.

Sunday
Dec032017

U.A.E. Denies Yemen Rebels Fired Missile at Abu Dhabi Nuclear Plant

As reported

Saturday
Oct072017

Dr. Gordon Thompson: "Robust Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel: A Neglected Issue of Homeland Security"

Executive Summary of “Robust Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel: A Neglected Issue of Homeland Security”, PDF 101.14KB Institute for Resource and Security Studies (January 2003) focuses on the vulnerability of irradiated fuel stored at the nation’s nuclear power stations  to terrorism and what we can do about it.

Full report of “Robust Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel: A Neglected Issue of Homeland Security”, PDF 274.74KB Institute for Resource and Security Studies (January 2003) focuses on the vulnerability of irradiated fuel stored at the nation’s nuclear power stations  to terrorism and what we can do about it.

Saturday
Jul082017

FBI and DHS detect cyberattack on US nuclear power station

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the United States Department of Homeland Security are alerting US electric power generators, including nuclear power plant operators, of cyberattacks on the nation's energy infrastructure by foreign-based hackers. 

In a joint statement issued July 7, 2017, the nation's top security agencies said that they “are aware of potential cyber intrusion affecting entities in the energy sector."

The statement said that the cyberattack appears to be “limited to administrative and business networks,” but it is very likely part of an ongoing probe and broader research effort to identify vulnerabilites in cybersecurity for the electric power system including generators and the power grid.  The North American Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC), an industry regulatory group organized to assure the reliability and security of the nation's bulk power system, is reported to be aware of the intrusion and communicating through its secure network. Unnamed government authorities have identified the Wolf Creek nuclear power station in Burlington, Kansas as one of the facilities that was probed by malware embedded in MicroSoft Word documents sent as fake resumes to onsite adminstrators. While no safety systems at the nuclear power station are believed to have been threatened by this cyberattack, it remains a growing concern that this intrusion was a test run for reconnisance conducted by an adversary. 

Bloomberg News and other sources are reporting that Russian hackers are among the suspects responsible for probing the US energy facilities. 

While nuclear power station safety systems by design are more or less isolated from an external cyberattack through the internet, the vulnerability of the electric grid that intially provides 100% of all electrical power to those same safety systems is no longer a theoritical concern. The electric grid is now potentially a cyber target potentially for broader military operations or punitive measures in retaliation for some U.S. action. Nuclear power stations are designed to respond to the loss of offsite power from the grid with the automatic startup of redundant onsite emergency power systems such as diesel generators. However, prolonged or recurring offsite power outages can challenge the durability and reliability of emergency power systems. Moreover, every table top and mock security training exercise for defending a nuclear power plant from an armed assault begins with first knocking out the electric grid. Without offsite power, the backup emergency power systems become part of an onsite target set for sabotage to cause a nuclear meltdown with widespread radioactive consequences.

US Senator Edward Markey (D-MA), top Democrat on the International Cybersecurity subcommittee, has now initiated an investigation. The subcommitte sent letters to the heads of the Department of Defense, Department of Energy, Department of Homeland Security, Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission about how the US is defending its nuclear power plants from foreign attacks and threats. The subcommittee is seeking answers on the number of nuclear plants that suffered attacks, who coordinates cybersecurity for nuclear power and recommendations for improving security. Markey has requested answers by Aug. 10. 

Clearly, more needs to be done to fortify the electric grid system that nuclear power station safety systems and other power generators rely upon. Pre-attack measures could include building in more manual control of the grid and post-cyber attack measures include more sophisticated computer forensics. However, the priority must be to phase out these inherently dangerous and radiologically-enhanced targets and replace them with benign, sustainable and renewable solar and wind power generators. 

The Asbury Park Press in New Jersey published a feature story on July 13, 2017 focusing on the Oyster Creek nuclear station and the cyberattacks on US nuclear power stations.