Bigger Guns, Bigger Problems? How High-Powered Ammunition Could Affect Nuclear Power Plants

Lest we forget the substations that were sabotaged via sniper attack in California in 2013, causing electricity to go out. Although the high-powered ammunition in this article’s case is on the side of security, what’s to stop the security personnel from being infiltrators themselves bent on industrial espionage and sabotage?




More powerful ammunition meant to protect nuclear reactors was capable of piercing control panels and critical piping.

(TNS) – Shortly after the horrors of 9/11, a curious package landed on Dave Lochbaum’s desk.

It was flat but heavy. Inside the bubble pack was a battered steel plate, blasted with dents and holes from semiautomatic weapons fire. Each pockmark and perforation was carefully labeled – by hand, in permanent ink – with the type of ammunition used to produce it.

Security forces at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station and nuclear plants nationwide had increased their firepower to take on a more formidable terrorist threat. The steel plate, sent by a San Onofre security manager, graphically illustrated what Lochbaum, a nuclear engineer, considered a potentially devastating, increased risk:
More powerful ammunition meant to protect nuclear reactors was capable of piercing control panels and critical piping.

The concern doesn’t appear to have been publicly disclosed at the time, but it resurfaced recently after the Nuclear Regulatory Commission allowed nuclear security forces to override state and local gun control laws and possess high-powered weaponry that would otherwise be banned.

Critics maintain that not enough is being done to protect plants and the public. Their issue is not whether those guarding nuclear plants should have high-powered weaponry, but about how much additional security training and hardening of facilities should be required to reduce the risk of collateral damage.

An accidental discharge, friendly fire or all-out firefight during a terrorist attack could potentially cripple a working reactor and release dangerous radiation, experts said.

…Nuclear power plant security is a nationwide concern. Nearly one-third of Americans – 96 million – live within 50 miles of such facilities, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.


Lochbaum, a nuclear engineer with the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the introduction of “bigger and badder weapons” at nuclear plants recalls the unanticipated consequences of ocean-liner safety improvements after the Titanic disaster in 1912.

In 1915, the Great Lakes passenger steamer SS Eastland, which had been prone to listing, was retrofitted with a complete set of lifeboats and crank systems to lower them. The steamer was not designed to hold the extra weight. When passengers congregated on the top deck while the Eastland was tied to a dock in the Chicago River, it rolled over, killing 844 people.

“Are the bigger and badder weaponry less Titanic or more Eastland?” Lochbaum asked.


Since 2001, the NRC has required more training and higher qualification standards for security personnel, he said. Guards must qualify each year with a nationally recognized firing course, earning at least 70 percent of the maximum score for revolvers and semiautomatic pistols and 80 percent of the maximum score for semiautomatic rifles, according to the NRC’s published criteria.


With an eye to growing terrorist threats, Daniel Hirsch, director of the Program on Environmental and Nuclear Policy at UC Santa Cruz, has been pushing the NRC to upgrade security at nuclear power plants since the early 1980s.

Over the years, federal regulators have increased security requirements, he said: Plants must be ready to repel truck bombs as well as teams of attackers who infiltrate on foot. But protections against some other types of attacks, such as by air and sea, are lagging, Hirsch said.

“Over the decades of dealing with the NRC, the pattern has never changed,” he said. “I’ve never seen them ahead of the risk rather than behind it. The NRC sees its job as keeping the burden low on the nuclear industry. This is an exceedingly dangerous mismatch between a captured regulatory agency and an adversary that is nimble, lethal and has absolutely no compunction.”

Full article: Bigger Guns, Bigger Problems? How High-Powered Ammunition Could Affect Nuclear Power Plants (Emergency Management)

One response to “Bigger Guns, Bigger Problems? How High-Powered Ammunition Could Affect Nuclear Power Plants

  1. The 2013 event had indications of an inside job, as specific knowledge of vital equipment outweigh chances of randomness.
    Could possibly be, (A) Disgruntled employee; (B) Security seeking to boost a contract; (C) Management seeking federal money to upgrade antiquated equipment and technology, and burying a few untraceable pennies for the upper tier of management.

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