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[cdn-nucl-l] Report: U.S. Nuclear Plants Can Survive Plane Attack
Posted on Yahoo News by Reuters on June 17, 2002 and at:
Report: U.S. Nuclear Plants Can Survive Plane Attack
Mon Jun 17,10:15 PM ET
By Tom Doggett
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A hijacked commercial airliner loaded with
explosive jet fuel like the one that hit the Pentagon ( news - web
sites) on Sept. 11 could not penetrate a U.S. nuclear power reactor and
release deadly radiation, according to a nuclear industry study
announced on Monday.
The report's conclusions are intended to calm a nervous public and
nuclear industry critics worried the nation's 103 nuclear reactors,
especially those near big cities, are susceptible to a Sept. 11 type of
The study was commissioned by the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry
trade group, which hired independent consultants to analyze what damage
would occur if a Boeing 767 airplane filled with fuel crashed into a
nuclear power plant.
"We think it's extremely unlikely that the aircraft would be able to
penetrate the reactor," said Stephen Floyd, NEI's senior director of
regulatory reform. "We feel very, very confident about the containment
Floyd announced the study's preliminary findings during a National Press
Foundation seminar on the threat of terror attacks on nuclear power
The study was based on scenarios in which the wide-bodied aircraft
crashed into a nuclear reactor traveling at about 300 miles per hour
(480 kilometers per hour), the same speed as the plane that damaged the
It did not analyze a nuclear reactor hit by a plane traveling at the
higher speeds of the two airliners that destroyed New York's World Trade
Security has been boosted at nuclear plants since the Sept. 11 attacks,
but some lawmakers and environmental activists have urged regulators to
station military personnel with sophisticated weapons at nuclear plants
to repel a hijacked plane.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission said earlier this month it would
analyze what devastation could occur if a fuel-laden commercial airliner
crashed into a reactor. U.S. plants are designed to protect the
radioactive core from tornadoes, hurricanes, fires and earthquakes (
news - web sites).
The industry's report used computer models to analyze the impact of a
plane hitting a reactor from different angles. Neither the plane or its
engines would be able to slice through a reactor's protective concrete
shell, which is several feet thick at the base, the study said.
The experts studied several scenarios, including the reactor taking a
direct hit from an airplane or being hit by the engine under an
A resulting fire from the airplane's jet fuel might engulf a nuclear
reactor, but would not cause it to collapse like the World Trade Center,
the industry report said.
The report did not consider the scenario of a reactor being hit by an
airplane flying at more than 500 mph (800 km/hour), the speed at which
the two planes hit the World Trade Center last September.
A pilot flying closer to the ground and aiming at a nuclear reactor
would not be able to control an airplane at 500 mph because of pressure
waves that would be created, it said.
Hijackers also could not nose-dive a commercial airliner into the top of
a reactor where the concrete shell is thinnest, because the plane would
break apart at such a steep angle and high speed, according to the
"The plane in all likelihood would destroy itself before it could hit
the target," Floyd said.
The report was viewed skeptically by other experts.
Edwin Lyman, president of the Nuclear Control Institute, questioned the
methodology of the report funded by U.S. utilities and said his group's
review has found that a Boeing 767 airliner could crash through a
However, Lyman's group based its conclusions on an airplane flying at
maximum cruising speed of 530 mph. Such a high speed just a few hundred
feet off the ground would make it difficult to accurately strike a
Lyman also reiterated his group's recommendation that federal regulators
should consider asking the Defense Department to place anti-aircraft
missiles at nuclear power plant facilities to shoot down a hijacked
plane aiming for the site.
The nuclear industry opposes such a plan, saying it runs the risk of
shooting down a commercial airliner that has simply strayed off its
flight path. A military commander would have only about 45 seconds after
spotting an airplane to decide if it was an attack and should be fired
The report will be reviewed by industry experts before being released to
the public at the end of the summer.