America’s Nuclear Power Plants Vulnerabilities

A year-long study found that the present legal and regulatory approach to EMP/Space weather threat to America’s nuclear power plants are inadequate and dangerous. This sorry state is anchored in the industry efforts to maintain safety regulations dating back to the 1980s, and a national security mentality relevant at the end of the Cold War.

This has been successful, in part, due to a campaign to brand nuclear power as a clean, safe source of energy. To their credit, the NRC and industry have demonstrated a commitment to safety where design basis events are concerned. However, EMP and GMD are beyond design basis events. Once these occur, there are no guarantees and few strategies with which to cope. 

There has only been a handful of nuclear disasters in history, and only one in the U.S. – TMI. It is, therefore, understandable from an economic standpoint that industry is resistant to change. However, this inertia has given rise to a complacent regulatory climate absent adaptive and progressive analysis. More than 30 years have elapsed since this topic was last openly addressed. Unfortunately, the assumptions borne of the highly controversial 1982 report continue to misinform decision makers even as recent as 2015. Despite these challenges and an NRC and industry galvanized to maintain the status quo, there are signs of progress. Some push for increased standards and regulations has occurred since Fukushima.

However, these efforts have been met with a tepid response from the nuclear industry. To stave off costly infrastructure updates, the industry responded by holding out the FLEX, a plan that is both impractical and dangerous due to an over-reliance on a functioning national infrastructure. Congress recently found, “The current strategy for recovery leaves the United States ill-prepared to respond effectively to an EMP attack that would potentially result in damage to vast numbers of components nearly simultaneously over an unprecedented geographic scale.”

Most importantly, the SHIELD Act would have conferred upon the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission legal authorities, which it currently lacks, to require the North American Electric Reliability Corporation and the electric power industry to protect EHV transformers, SCADAS, and other critical components of the bulk power system from natural and manmade EMP. Moreover, if SHIELD were enacted and implemented, by protecting the bulk power system, nuclear reactors would have been protected from the scenario of a protracted nationwide blackout.

Conclusion

The U.S. must address 21st Century problems with 21st Century prevention-based mitigation strategies that are part of a holistic and common sense approach. This study contends that although the threat to EMP/GMD and its likely impacts on nuclear power stations have been known for some time, both internal and external political pressures have ensured the regulatory and technological status quo for more than three decades.

Full article: America’s Nuclear Power Plants Vulnerabilities (Family Security Matters)

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