Media Overplays Risk of Terrorist Attacks on Nuclear Power Plants


DATE: November 16, 2001

BACKGROUND: Since September 11 much has been said in the media about the vulnerability of nuclear power plants to terrorist attack. The reports of danger to human health from such a potential attack are greatly exaggerated and the threat posed to nuclear plants by terrorists is minimal, says a National Center for Public Policy Research paper, linked below.

TEN SECOND RESPONSE: Nuclear power plants are far more resistant to terrorist attacks than the media reports, say many of the nation's leading nuclear physicists.

THIRTY SECOND RESPONSE: Radiation in a nuclear power plant is contained in the reactor. It is surrounded by a reactor vessel made of several feet of concrete and steel. The reactor vessel, in turn, is surrounded by a containment vessel, also made of several feet of concrete and steel. Thus, even if a large airliner crashed directly into the reactor, which would require incredibly precise targeting by the pilot, the reactor vessel is unlikely to be breached. Even if terrorists broke into a plant's control room, it is unlikely they could cause anything other than a harmless shut down.

DISCUSSION: A new study from the National Center for Public Policy Research, "Nuclear Power and Terrorism: What are the Risks?," written by nuclear physicists Gerald Marsh and George Stanford, has found the nation's nuclear electricity generators to be far less vulnerable to terrorist attack than recent media reports indicate. They did, however, note that spent fuel at these plants does pose some slight risk and should be moved to the Yucca Mountain, Nevada repository, which is under construction.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: The study may be found at:


by Tom Randall, Director
John P. McGovern, MD Center for Environmental and Regulatory Affairs
The National Center for Public Policy Research

Contact the author at: 773-857-5086 or [email protected]
The National Center for Public Policy Research, Chicago office
3712 North Broadway - PMB 279
Chicago, IL 60613