SPRING CITY, TN – A recent shooting at a nuclear power plant in Tennessee has renewed awareness of how little focus has been placed on ensuring that American nuclear power and chemical plants are safe from potential terrorist attacks.
TVA spokesperson Jim Hopson confirmed that a security officer patrolling TVA Watts Bar Nuclear Plant in Spring City recently was involved in a shootout with a suspect last Sunday around 2:00 a.m. The shooting occurred just a quarter mile from the reactor’s protected area. The shooter approached the plant by boat and walked on to the restricted property. When the officer returned fire, the assailant fled by way of his boat.
“We’ve seen instances where everyday events can be used by those who want to do harm, we all need to be on the lookout for unusual events and then respond appropriately when those things happen,” said Hopson.
TVA officials called the incident an “unusual event,” the lowest level of its four emergency classifications. Plant officials said the incident didn’t threaten the plant’s security. FBI, TVA, and NRC officials are investigating the incident, and authorities have not named a suspect at this time.
The incident, however slight, has raised questions about the seeming lack of preparedness for potential terrorist actions against such vulnerable targets. In fact, Three Mile Island was the first site in the U.S. to stage formal drills to train for such possibilities. This drill took place one day after the Boston Marathon bombing.
“This was really an outgrowth of 9-11,” said Neil Sheehan, spokesman for the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), which recently began requiring nuclear plants to plan for such attack.
It was fully two years ago that government officials warned that Al Qaeda was trying to infiltrate critical facilities within the United States for future attacks. According to CBN News:
“The Department of Homeland Security issued a report…warning that sabotage by an insider could give terrorists access to major utility facilities.
‘Violent extremists have, in fact, obtained insider positions’ at chemical and oil refineries and have attempted to solicit utility-sector employees,’ officials said in the report.”
The NRC began requiring nuclear power plant owners to prepare for such attacks in late 2011. These drills are required to train for possible “hostile action” that isn’t covered in normal existing drills. These include needing to shelter responders from armed or aircraft attack, providing rescue and medical care for large numbers of plant personnel, and operating or repairing the plant when large portions of it are damaged or on fire.
While the announcement of new drills is welcomed, the question remains—what took so long? With no order for such drills until fully ten years after 9/11, one has to question, why the delay? How safe are our nuclear power plants from potential disaster?