Associated Press is reporting that suspected al-Qaeda member Sharif Mobley, who was wounded in a March 2010 shoot out and escape attempt from a Yemeni hospital, had previously worked at six US nuclear power plant sites containing 10 separate reactor units from 2002 to 2008 before moving to Yemen. Mr. Mobley is reported to have worked as a contract worker at New Jersey’s three unit Salem and Hope Creek nuclear power plant site, Pennsylvania’s two unit Peach Bottom nuclear reactors, the two unit site at Limerick, and the single operating unit at Three Mile Island as well as Maryland’s two unit Calvert Cliffs nuclear power station.
Mr. Mobley had cleared all federal background checks to gain access as a contract worker to the nuclear power stations. The Baltimore office of the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation has opened a case. Nuclear power plant authorities and the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission are reported to be collaborating in the investigation.
Regardless of any finding of the investigation into the allegations against Mr. Mobley, the news stories underscore the concern that nuclear power plants are vulnerable pre-deployed weapons of mass destruction. Nuclear power plants have been identified by the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States in its 911 Commission report, as high profile targets because of the potential far reaching radiological consequences of successfully sabotaging a reactor and/or the tremendous amounts of highly radioactive waste stored onsite in vulnerable pools and dry casks. The original al-Qaeda attack plan was to hijack ten commercial aircraft and fly two into US nuclear power stations. Mohammed Atta is reported to have surveilled the Indian Point nuclear power plant in Westchester County, New York during his flight training.
Clearly, a sophisticated enemy of the state can introduce a would-be saboteur or an inside informant penetrating even with the most thorough criminal background checks if an individual has no prior record. A determined, knowledgeable and well trained adversary can render large portions of the United States uninhabitable if successful.