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Subject: ANS Late News Section / November 2001 Nuclear News
ANS Late News Section / November 2001 Nuclear News
AT LEAST ONE U.S. COMPANY HAS BEGUN IRRADIATING MAIL commercially to destroy
anthrax, and several others are considering the possibilities. Miles Mont,
the president of New York-based Mail Scientific, Inc., told Nuclear News on
October 23 that his company has several contracts in place, from both
private and public organizations, to process letters and packages using
cobalt-60 gamma irradiation. He said his customers see irradiation as an
insurance policy of sorts. "Obviously, the risk [of contamination] is low,
from a percentage basis. It [irradiation] is something some companies just
prudently think is a good way to handle the mail in the next three to six
months," Mont said.
Similar to its effect on other bacteria such as Salmonella, E. coli
0157:H7, and Listeria monocytogenes, ionizing radiation can kill anthrax
spores by disrupting the organisms' DNA structures. "Our processing centers
and labs have been using it [irradiation] for traditional uses such as the
sterilization of medical equipment and food," Mont said. "So, obviously,
with the advent of this new anthrax threat, the application of the
technology is very similar."
Mont said that parcels of mail are wrapped in plastic in a secure area.
They are then irradiated and delivered back to the customer. "Nothing gets
removed. Nothing gets touched. All the bacteria and anthrax spores are dealt
with," Mont explained. He noted the customer is responsible for removing any
pieces of mail that may contain items, such as electronic components, that
may be adversely affected by the radiation.
More prominent irradiation firms such as Belgium-based IBA, which
operates 14 gamma irradiation facilities in the U.S. and claims to be the
world's largest gamma irradiation service provider, are moving cautiously in
response to enquiries on processing mail. "It's complicated. This is a long
discussion. It's a very complicated process," replied IBA's North American
operations president Mark McLoughlin, when asked what prevents his company
from accepting mail for irradiation. "I would not process it, for instance,
in facilities where we're doing other products. I think it takes a dedicated
facility to consider this. We won't put our customers that we have today in
any sort of risk. Whether it's real or not, it would be perceived. . . . So,
we will not irradiate mail in any facility where we're presently handling
Paula Burchat, a spokesperson for Ontario-based MDS Nordion, Inc., which
supplies Co-60 sources and gamma processing systems, acknowledged that they
have received phone calls from customers interested in irradiating mail. It
is still too early to make any firm plans, however, she said. "We have
received enquiries. We're addressing each of them as they come in. But,
there are still some technical issues that we'd have to look at in treating
mail," Burchat said. "Every product that we irradiate is different."
Moving more quickly is Food Technology Service, Inc., of Mulberry, Fla.,
which processes food and medical supplies using gamma radiation. Outgoing
president and CEO Pete Ellis said FTS has responded to customer enquiries
with "several proposals" to irradiate mail, at a cost of approximately 10
cents per ounce. He said on October 22 that he expected to hear back from
those customers within a few days.
Mail Scientific, however, appears to be most aggressively seeking mail
irradiation business. On the Google.com search engine on the World Wide Web,
they even paid for a sponsored link to appear adjacent to the search results
when the terms "anthrax irradiation" were entered.
SECURITY REMAINS HIGH AT NUCLEAR POWER PLANTS in the United States, and
government and industry officials have given no indication as to when the
high alert status may be stepped down. Following the terrorist attacks on
the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, the nation's 103
operating nuclear power plants, as well as all nuclear fuel facilities and
gaseous diffusion plants, have increased security at the urging of the
Nuclear Regulatory Commission. While most details of heightened security
remain classified, the NRC noted in a statement released on October 18 that
"[c]ontrary to some rumors, the [NRC] has not ordered any plants to shut
down for security reasons."
According to NRC spokesperson Victor Dricks, the agency has issued
security-related "advisories" to specific plants, as well as generic
communications regarding methods by which all nuclear facilities may
increase and supplement existing security. In addition, letters sent on
September 26 by NRC Chairman Richard Meserve have advised 40 governors of
states with nuclear facilities inside their borders to call on the National
Guard if they feel extra protection is needed for the sites. Some sites,
such as Indian Point, Kewaunee, and Point Beach, have called on the Coast
Guard to patrol the waters off their shores.
Dricks said on October 22 that he wouldn't speculate as to when increased
security might be eased, but that the heightened status is "the highest the
plants have ever been on, [and] that preparations have been made to protect
the plants from threats that exceed the previously defined design basis
threat, which includes attacks by air and water." He added that the NRC
continues to maintain close communications with federal, state, and local
intelligence agencies, law enforcement departments, and governments to
exchange plant-security information.
Regarding reports of possible terrorist attacks on nuclear power plants,
Dricks emphasized that all have been without substance. "As of this time, no
specific threats have been determined to be credible against any of the
facilities," he said. An October 21 news story in The Sunday Times of London
reported that the airliner that crashed in a Pennsylvania field on September
11 may have been targeting a nuclear power plant, possibly Three Mile
Island, Hope Creek, or Peach Bottom, all of which were within the doomed
aircraft's line of flight. The news story said that the U.S. Federal Bureau
of Investigation was studying a report of that possible attack, but an FBI
spokesperson told Nuclear News on October 22 that the agency was making no
comment on the matter. Dricks said that while the NRC previously had heard
of the TMI air-attack theory, it too was without merit. "We have no
information to believe that the plane was headed toward any nuclear plant,
including TMI," he said.
Nor was there any basis to a reported threat on TMI that gained national
attention the week of October 17, Dricks said. In that instance, airports
near TMI were closed and military jets were scrambled to patrol the skies
above the reactor after intelligence information warned of a credible threat
to the plant. "A potential terrorist threat directed at Three Mile Island
nuclear power plant near Harrisburg, Pa., has been determined by the
intelligence community to be non-credible," an October 18 NRC statement
To further protect nuclear facilities, the NRC temporarily closed down
its Web site in October, at the request of the Department of Defense, to
filter out any information that might be considered classified or of
potential use to terrorists. "We removed the plant information books, which
contained very detailed information about each of the facilities," said
Dricks. "We also removed the geospacial coordinates for all of the plants.
We didn't feel it was necessary to have the latitude and longitude of each
of the plants [on the Web site]." The Environmental Protection Agency also
removed information from its Web site about emergency plans and chemicals at
15 000 nuclear and non-nuclear sites nationwide.
But while focusing on potential threats to nuclear facilities, the NRC's
attention also must be directed on the day-to-day operations of the plants
to ensure that they are run in a safe manner, Dricks said. "We're very
mindful of that. We're very much aware that these [security-related]
activities represent a potential diversion of resources and our attention."
Dricks stressed that the NRC continues in its daily role as regulator of the
nuclear industry, and NRC inspectors assigned to nuclear plants remain
vigilant of their on-site duties. As an example of business as usual for the
NRC, Dricks noted that staff members had met the week of October 15-19 with
Exelon executives about the possibility of building a next generation of
nuclear power plants.
Congressman Edward Markey (D., Mass.), a frequent critic of the nuclear
industry and the NRC, on September 20 sent a letter to Meserve posing
numerous questions about security at nuclear power plants. Meserve replied
by letter to Markey on October 16, attaching an 11-page response to the
congressman's questions. Meserve's attachment reiterated that nuclear
containment structures are among the most secure civilian facilities in the
United States and that the terrorist attacks have focused the NRC's
attention on the need to review policies and practices related to safeguards
and physical security measures for nuclear power plants. During the NRC's
ongoing review, Meserve noted, the agency was interacting with the FBI,
other intelligence and law enforcement agencies, and the Defense Department
to ensure that "any changes to the NRC's programs are informed by pertinent
information from other relevant U.S. agencies."
Steve Kerekes, spokesperson for the Nuclear Energy Institute, said on
October 22 that while there has been a lot of attention placed on physically
safeguarding nuclear plants, there is another angle to the story: the
nation's energy security. "I think what's pretty clear to people is that the
world at large, particularly in some regions, is tremendously volatile, and
that means that we have to have a strong measure of energy security in our
nation," Kerekes said. "As a reliable, domestic energy source, nuclear power
plays a huge role from that standpoint." As the United States adjusts to
dealing with terrorist activities over time, he continued, "we are still
going to need reliable sources of electricity that also have the added
benefit of not polluting the air, and those certainly are attributes that
nuclear energy has."
Kerekes noted that while there is understandable attention on the risks
and potential effects of a nuclear accident, many studies have reported on
the real and known adverse health effects of other types of power
generation, specifically those associated with putting certain particulates
into the atmosphere that contribute to thousands of premature deaths every
year. "So none of these [terrorist] events changes the fact that nuclear
energy is our nation's largest emissions-free source of electricity," he
said. "[The industry] remains very confident that [nuclear] will have, over
the long term, a very strong role to play in our nation's energy
Regarding the threat of attacks on nuclear plants, Kerekes said,
"Although [the industry] can't guarantee that [nuclear plants are]
impervious to everything out there, we have a high level of confidence that
because our facilities are built so robustly and really are, from a security
standpoint, hardened assets, they would provide a strong level of protection
in the event that something happened."
IN FRANCE, SHORTLY AFTER THE U.S. TERRORIST ATTACKS, French Prime Minister
Lionel Jospin put into effect the national security plan known as
Vigipirate, in its "reinforced" mode, mobilizing all security forces
including air defense. According to government statements, this allows the
government to take all measures necessary to monitor and protect important
and vulnerable sites, including strategic facilities (such as military bases
and nuclear power plants), symbolic buildings (for example, embassies and
places of worship), and other public places (such as schools, airports, and
the tunnel beneath the English Channel). The government has since put
forward amendments to strengthen Vigipirate in order to take account of the
threats now posed by terrorists having access to modern technologies and
communications, as well as weaponry.
According to France's nuclear safety authority, DSIN, nuclear plant
designers considered the risk of a twin-engine plane crashing into a
facility, but not the risk posed by military aircraft or large commercial
airliners, which had been considered too improbable (less than 1 in 100
million for the latter). While unable to avoid being damaged by such a
collision, nuclear power stations offer a good level of resistance,
particularly the more modern ones with containments of reinforced concrete.
Opponents of nuclear energy in France are focusing on Cogema's
reprocessing facilities at La Hague, particularly the spent fuel storage
ponds. To counter misleading information being put out by antinuclear
groups, Cogema has released statements explaining security at the plant and
the risks involved.
The La Hague facility is subject to a permanent overflight ban. Taking
into account its geographical position, said Cogema, national defense forces
would have time to intervene if an infringement of this rule is suspected.
Air defense of the site also includes anti-aircraft missile systems. The
whole of the site, whose security is carried out by special forces specific
to Cogema, is enclosed by a double fence and provided with sophisticated
detection and remote monitoring systems. Visits by the public have been
The pools themselves are at a low level in the plant, independent of each
other and surrounded by other buildings, making them difficult targets.
There are no air vents on the roof, which would help avoid an ingress of
kerosene from an aircraft.
Cogema also described a study carried out on a (hypothetical) complete
draining of the ponds at the time of an accident of any origin. The results
showed that the existing means of intervening in such a situation were
* In the United Kingdom, nuclear facilities were put on a higher state of
alert and plant security services have been taking additional protective
measures, such as tighter controls on access to and around sites. The
government has now presented proposals to expand the role and jurisdiction
of the security forces responsible for protecting nuclear facilities,
notably those from the Ministry of Defence and the Office for Civil Nuclear
Security, whose powers will also be widened. For example, their authority,
which is limited to within the site boundary, in the future will extend
three miles beyond the boundaries. An additional power to be given to police
and customs services is the authority to demand the removal of facial
covering or gloves of suspects.
Measures will also be introduced to shore up gaps in current legislation
relating to chemical, nuclear, and biological weapons to prevent the use,
production, possession, or participation in unauthorized transfers of these
materials. In Britain, nuclear opponents have been pointing to the
vulnerability of nuclear transportation, noting that some trains carrying
spent fuel destined for Sellafield go through parts of London.
* Immediately after the attacks, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission
(CNSC) instructed its major licensees to boost security at their sites and
activated its emergency response center, where the situation will be
monitored. The center will also coordinate communications among licensees,
domestic security forces, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the
International Atomic Energy Agency.
On October 1, CNSC instructed the licensees to report on their security
measures within two weeks. The measures were assessed against international
practices and the recommendations of two studies recently completed for
CNSC, one on internal and external threats to nuclear facilities, including
the potential for sabotage or theft, and the other on identified areas vital
to nuclear safety at Candu reactors. As a result of this, Linda Keen, CNSC
president, met with senior executives of the main operators (Ontario Power
Generation, Bruce Power, Hydro Quebec, New Brunswick Power, and Atomic
Energy of Canada Limited) on October 19, ordering them to take a number of
measures to increase security. She also ordered a complete review of
Canada's nuclear security regulations to determine appropriate levels of
security measures in the future.
* Speaking before the United Nations General Assembly in New York on October
22, IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei warned of the difficulty some
poorer countries are having in providing security of nuclear material, and
suggested establishing a fund for protection against nuclear terrorism.
He also said that the agency is considering expanding the scope and reach
of many of its security and safety services, and will be reexamining
existing conventions and guidelines-including the Convention on the Physical
Protection of Nuclear Material-to ensure that they are effective.
A NATIONAL SURVEY FOLLOWING THE TERRORIST ATTACKS of September 11 has
found that record numbers of Americans favor the use of nuclear energy as
one of the ways to provide electricity in the United States, and also
consider today's operating plants safe. The survey, conducted by Bisconti
Research, Inc. (BRi) with Bruskin Research October 6-8, included telephone
interviews with a nationally representative sample of 1000 U.S. adults
(margin of error is ±3 percentage points).
When asked, Do you strongly favor, somewhat favor, somewhat oppose, or
strongly oppose the use of nuclear energy as one of the ways to provide
electricity in the United States?, the overall percentage of those in favor
was 65 percent (see accompanying graph and tables). Twenty-eight percent
said they strongly favor the use of nuclear, twice the 14 percent who said
they are strongly opposed. The other 37 percent in favor said they were
somewhat in favor, and 15 percent were somewhat opposed. These numbers are
higher than any time since the questions were first asked in the early
1980s, according to BRi.
Results of other questions asked in the telephone interviews are
* Perceptions of nuclear power plant safety-Asked to rate the safety of
operating nuclear power plants on a scale of 1 (very unsafe) to 7 (very
safe), 66 percent of interviewees responded in the range of 5-7, compared to
16 percent responding in the range 1-3. According to BRi, "The latest upturn
in confidence about nuclear power plant safety, in this time of national
crisis, may have been influenced by recent media reports about the
robustness and physical security of U.S. nuclear power plants and/or a rise
in patriotic attitudes about U.S. technology in general."
* Trend in percentages saying nuclear energy should play an important
role-Asked how important a role nuclear energy should play in meeting future
electricity needs in the United States, 74 percent responded favorably-that
is, either that nuclear should play a very important role or a somewhat
* Opinions about extending nuclear power plant licenses, and building more
plants-Eighty-four percent said they strongly agree or somewhat agree with
renewing the licenses of nuclear energy plants that continue to meet federal
safety standards. Keeping the option to build more nuclear plants in the
future was supported strongly or somewhat by 72 percent, and 59 percent
strongly or somewhat supported building more nuclear plants in the future.
* Trend in percentages saying we should build more nuclear power plants in
the future, by region-In the West, 57 percent agreed (strongly or somewhat)
that more nuclear power plants should be built in the future, down 6
percentage points since July 2001, but up 24 since October 1999. In the
Midwest, 64 percent agreed, the same as in July 2001, but up 22 percentage
points since October 1999; in the Northeast, 49 percent agreed, down 7
points from July, but up 9 from October 1999; and in the South, 61 percent
agreed, down 6 points from July, but up 11 from October 1999.
* Acceptability of adding a nuclear power plant at nearest existing
site-Sixty-six percent of all U.S. adults questioned said they would accept
the addition of a nuclear power plant at an existing site nearby, compared
to 64 percent in July 2001. Of those who said their electric company
operates a nuclear power plant, 69 percent would accept a new plant at an
operating reactor site, down just 2 percentage points from July 2001.
* Percent saying the President and Congress should give high priority to
five energy goals-Seventy-one percent said that assuring a reliable energy
supply should be a high-priority item, followed by 66 percent for protecting
the environment, 65 percent for improving air quality, 55 percent for
increasing energy independence, and 54 percent for stabilizing prices. It is
interesting, BRi noted, that "Recent terrorist attacks have not increased
the appeal of energy independence [up only 2 percentage points from July and
down 7 percentage points from March 2001]; instead, those saying that energy
independence should be a high priority for a national energy policy was the
same as in July and less than in March. Although some policy leaders are now
stressing the importance of relying less on energy from unstable parts of
the world, this concept may not have reached the broad public."
* Assessment of reasons to use more nuclear energy-Half of those interviewed
were given three statements, and were asked which seemed to them to be the
best reason to use more nuclear energy in the United States. The other half
of the interviewees were read the statements, and were asked to indicate in
each case whether it is an excellent, good, fair, or poor reason to use more
nuclear energy. The statement "As our population grows, we will need more
electricity from available sources like nuclear energy to protect our
economy and quality of life" elicited 36 percent (in the first group) saying
this was the best reason, and 62 percent (in the second group) saying it was
a good or excellent reason. Twenty-six percent cited nuclear's helping to
keep our air cleaner as the best reason, and 61 percent said it was a good
or excellent reason. The third question, concerning development of domestic
sources like nuclear energy, 26 percent gave a "best reason" rating, and 58
percent said it was a good or excellent reason.
A feature article by Ann Bisconti and Mark Richards on nuclear energy
opinion trends appears in this issue on page 36.
Copyright (c) 2001 by the American Nuclear Society, Inc.
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