Attribution is a difficult technical challenge—ideally, one would want to know both the characteristics of the weapon used in the attack and its country of origin. The former can be determined through careful analysis of blast debris; the latter might be determined by linking this information with intelligence on thefts, smuggling, and weapons development efforts by states and terrorist groups developed through the data-mining techniques discussed above.

Efforts are under way by national laboratories to develop an attribution capability under the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA). The goal is to develop the capability to perform a postdetonation debris analysis and to draw conclusions on the design and performance after an attack. The technology for developing this capability exists but needs to be assembled, an effort that is expected to take several years.

Recommendation 2.9: Given the potential importance of attribution to deterring nuclear attacks, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s efforts to develop a capability for identifying perpetrators of an attack should continue to declared operability as quickly as practical.


The events of September 11 suggest that physical and operational changes at some NPPs may be needed to mitigate vulnerabilities to attacks from the air using a large commercial airliner or a smaller aircraft loaded with high explosives and, possibly, attacks from the ground using HE projectiles. The technical analyses that are now being carried out by the USNRC and EPRI to understand the effects of such attacks on reactor containment buildings and essential auxiliary facilities are critical to understanding the full magnitude of this threat to the nation’s NPPs.

Recommendation 2.10: The ongoing U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Electric Power Research Institute assessments of nuclear power plant vulnerabilities to airliner attacks should be completed as soon as possible, and follow-on work to identify vulnerabilities on a plant-by-plant basis, including vulnerabilities to air attacks by small craft loaded with high explosives or to ground attacks by high-explosive projectiles, should be undertaken as soon as these initial studies are completed. This “completion” should not stand in the way of early actions to address significant plant vulnerabilities that are identified in the course of the ongoing Sandia National Laboratories and EPRI assessments. If these assessments continue to show that important vulnerabilities exist, then steps should be taken to reduce such vulnerabilities as soon as possible.

If the USNRC discovers significant vulnerabilities at its licensees’ reactors as a result of these analyses, it could mandate a number of physical and opera-

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement