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House committee wants nuclear reactors secured

This article by H. Josef Hebert of the Associated Press has recently appeared in newspapers throughout the United States, and tells how the government and the NRC are working together to provide greater nuclear safety.

Washington- The House advanced legislation directing the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to establish new security requirements for power reactors, taking into account potential suicide attacks and threats from aircraft.

The bill, passed by a voice vote Wednesday by the Energy and Commerce Committee, also would give guards at the nation's 103 nuclear reactors broader authority to carry weapons, make arrests and use deadly force.

In the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks, the NRC commissioners unanimously agreed to review its "design-threat" security regulations. These rules set out what kinds of threats a plant operator must be prepared to guard against as part of a plant license.

Currently, power plant operators are required to prepare for commando-like attacks, internal sabotage or attack by truck or car bombs.

Under the legislation, which now goes before the full House, the NRC would have to issue new rules within a year to consider a wide range of additional threats- including coordinated attacks from different groups of 20 people at the same time, suicide attacks and threats from aircraft.

"We cannot afford to sit until the terrorists target one of these facilities before we take action," said Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., who offered the amendment changing the NRC security requirements.

Consideration of a proposal calling on the president to establish no-fly zones over nuclear power plants during an emergency was postponed.

Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., the committee's chairman, said the actions outlined in the legislation "represent quick and necessary first steps as we examine and seek ways to address the terrorist threat."

Tauzin said other provisions in the bill had been requested by the NRC, including:

1. Federal authorization for guards at nuclear power plants to carry arms, make arrests and use deadly force. Such authority currently exists in some states, but is not nationwide.

2. NRC regulation of what weapons may be brought into a nuclear facility.

3. Stronger laws against sabotage at other nuclear facilities, such as nuclear material processing plants, waste treatment plants and fuel fabrication facilities.