Threats to Nuclear Facilities: Framing the Problem
P. Rama Rao
This workshop does not solely address issues related to securing civilian nuclear facilities. It has a much wider scope encompassing several important issues pertaining to terrorism in general and its impact on specific domains. In addition to nuclear facilities, the subjects addressed include urban and rural infrastructure, communications, and agriculture and bioterrorism. Thus, this presentation will be placed in that broader context.
For obvious reasons, securing nuclear facilities is not just one nation’s problem but a worldwide concern. Basically there are two kinds of facilities—nuclear fuel-cycle facilities and facilities for nonpower applications. Concerns common to both kinds of facilities relate to terrorist groups getting access to nuclear materials and using them to fabricate nuclear explosive or radiological dispersal devices (RDDs, or dirty bombs), or plotting sabotage of nuclear fuel-cycle facilities to release radioactivity in the public domain. The latter could result in great devastation, unimaginable panic, and considerable economic penalty. The experts and the stakeholders in the international nuclear community need to take a multicountry approach to adequately address these common concerns.
NUCLEAR FUEL-CYCLE AND NONPOWER APPLICATIONS
In India, nuclear power plants and all nuclear fuel-cycle facilities have been funded, developed, constructed, operated, and managed directly by the government or by public-sector enterprises under government control. Experts in developing countries generally view this as a feature that has served well in assuring safety and security. From inception, Indian nuclear facilities have been provided with physical protection measures, such as well-guarded exclusion and sterilization zones and secondary control rooms. They also have independent, redundant, and diverse safety systems, such as multiple containment, that can withstand seismic activity. These features were built to ensure nuclear reactor safety and to protect the public at large in case of an accident or incident.
It is fortunate that these robust systems, built on the concept of in-depth defense, provide some level of protection against terrorist attacks. It is necessary periodically to verify the adequacy of security in certain vulnerable areas by analysis and taking into consideration evolving design-basis threats. There is, however, a consensus among the members of the nuclear community that nuclear facilities have robust safety and security systems in place.
An examination of various safety guides and codes reveals that insufficient attention has been paid to ensuring the security of radioactive sources. Radioactive sources are highly vulnerable, especially considering the fact that terrorist access to them would endanger global security. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) data on illicit trafficking in nuclear material highlights the need to further tighten controls at all points, including at international boundaries. Regrettably, confidence in the safety and security of nuclear fuel-cycle facilities does not seem to translate to the nonpower use of radioactive sources, such as in applications in hospitals, industries, and agriculture. The nonpower use of radioactive sources is so widespread and the variety and numbers of sources used is so large that ensuring safety and security will be a stupendous task. This is an area that requires much greater attention and control.
In India an independent organization called the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) is responsible for monitoring and controlling the civilian use of radioactive sources, and ensuring their security. There is an elaborate registration process to authorize, track, and monitor sources to ensure their safety and security. The AERB has also sought and received help from technical personnel in far-flung national laboratories and state units. These persons help to identify and monitor locations where radioactive materials are in use.
Returning briefly to power plants, the systems and safety procedures in vogue, explained earlier, adopt internationally accepted design standards. Moreover, the procedures established for dealing with and reporting unusual safety-related occurrences, incidents, and accidents, and grouping them under various scales of severity are all well defined, established, and practiced meticulously. Global power plant operating groups exchange information on best practices. In contrast, there are no comparable institutional systems in place to deal with millions of radioactive sources that are used in civilian applications around the world. Reports indicate the presence of many orphaned sources. The need to secure and account for all radioactive sources from cradle to grave is of paramount importance. The need to ensure absolute control over such materials grows out of a concern not only for the health and safety of the public but also for the great risk of terrorists gaining access to them. The potential issue of dirty bombs is rather scary. While nuclear power plant security warrants attention and concern, we should not lose sight of the economic and cleanup costs and panic that could result from the detonation of dirty bombs that mix radiation sources with conventional explosives to spread radioactivity.
Physical protection plays an important role in ensuring the security of nuclear materials and facilities. The IAEA has played an active role in the development of codes, specifications, and operational procedures that deal in detail with the technical, regulatory, and licensing aspects of nuclear security. It has also conducted emergency drills. There is a need to draw up a national design-basis threat plan in line with the recommendations of the international guidelines and device security systems. Not only
will this ensure a high level of early detection, it will also delay terrorist actions by putting suitable barriers in place. Finally, an effective response will help neutralize the threat. A well-rehearsed emergency preparedness plan for nuclear power plants already exists. In fact, such a plan must be in place before a nuclear power plant goes into operation. Since effective implementation of emergency preparedness plans is the ultimate protection in emergent situations, these should be subject to periodic reviews by regulatory authorities, and drills should be conducted to expose and help address weaknesses.
The interface issues occurring between safety and security are an emerging area that requires attention. While attention has been paid to safety systems ever since nuclear energy applications were first used, security concerns per se have assumed greater importance after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Security- and safety-related issues cannot be separated. A great deal of attention should be paid to the interface between safety and security. There are situations where safety may require a particular type of plant design that may not be conducive to good security and vice versa. There are several examples of security and safety considerations coming into conflict. Access to an auxiliary control room that is established as a backup for the main control room is one example. Although the ease of movement of personnel between the two control rooms is essential while dealing with emergencies, this may pose a problem in ensuring security. Such redundant provisions necessarily demand proper analysis of safety and related security issues to ensure the best possible solution.
Security essentially has two parts: (1) managing security by the number of guards, access systems, and the like, and (2) using technology to enhance the capabilities. The regulatory agencies internationally will have to be motivated to look at the technical aspects of security in such a way that they complement and ensure effective management of the overall security of nuclear facilities. The same applies to safety culture.
The safety and security of nuclear power plants and facilities are of universal concern, and international cooperation is of paramount importance. Some of the research areas for international cooperation relating to security, safety, and their interface are listed in Box 8-1. Countries such as the United States that have experience in these areas and have mastered technologies essential for ensuring security should freely share them without any restrictions. Unrestricted dissemination of information and technology in areas relating to safety and security is essential. This is possible only through strong international cooperation. India has certain strengths that can complement these efforts in such areas as computer modeling and system design analysis tools.
The Indian Atomic Energy Regulatory Board has set up an independent entity, the Safety Research Institute, to undertake research on safety issues. Being an independent unit, it retains certain flexibility promoting international cooperation in all areas of common interest and concern. There have been good interactions between the Safety Research Institute and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in the United States.
Organizations such as the IAEA, the CANDU Owners Group,45 and the World Association of Nuclear Operators can play a greater role in promoting a safety and security culture. There are more than 400 nuclear power plants and associated facilities
The CANDU Owners Group Inc. is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to providing programs for cooperation, mutual assistance and exchange of information for the successful support, development, operation, maintenance and economics of CANDU technology. See: www.candu.org.
such as enrichment and reprocessing plants. Millions of radioisotopes are in use around the world. All of them need to be well protected and safely operated. This highlights the absolute necessity of proper training of a substantially greater number of personnel than is being done now. India today can boast of having created a large number of talented science and technology personnel in the five decades since its independence in 1947. The strength of this large human resource should be exploited fully and effectively in international collaborative work. For this to happen, more support for international cooperation is needed. Technologies relating to ensuring nuclear security and safety should not be subject to any control regimes. Training opportunities should not be curtailed under some pretext or the other. There should also be greater transparency in the sharing of information.
To conclude, while safety and security considerations are no doubt important at nuclear facilities, radioactive sources in nonpower applications also require comparable protection. It is not safety or security, but both, and the points of their intersection require focused attention. International cooperation in research leading to advanced safety- and security-related technologies should be encouraged, and technology control regimes should not become a barrier to such efforts. In an era of outsourcing, India, with a large pool of talented and competent science and technology personnel, could play a significant part in the global effort of ensuring the safety and security of nuclear installations.
Research in Security Technologies