Senator Boxer:  Nuclear Plants Should be Secured   

Thursday, February 1, 2007  

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) recently announced that it would not require nuclear power plant operators to take action to protect their reactors from a 9/11-style attack using aircraft as weapons.  The NRC’s statement claimed that protection against such attacks should be addressed by “other federal organizations, including the military.”

In response to this announcement, I recently wrote to NRC Chairman Dale Klein.  As Chairman of the Senate’s Committee on Environment and Public Works, I expressed my severe reservations about the NRC announcement.  I am pleased to offer the text of my letter below for your information.

Dear Chairman Klein:

I understand the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) may shortly act to issue a final rulemaking to amend the design basis threat (DBT) regulations.  As Chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, I write to share my views with the Commission on this matter.

In my view, the NRC must ensure that the security of nuclear plants is enhanced in a way that is consistent with post-9/11 threats.  Title VI of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 includes language negotiated by the EPW Committee on a bipartisan basis.  Specifically, Section 651 directs the NRC to commence a rulemaking to upgrade the design basis threat (DBT) and take into account 12 factors, including attacks of a magnitude of 9/11, attacks by large groups, and attacks by air.

Given reports that al Qaeda considered nuclear plant targets prior to carrying out the September 11, 2001 attacks on our country, it is critically important that the NRC act to address these factors.  The communities that surround existing plants need to be confident that the NRC, as the regulator charged with nuclear safety, did all it could to ensure that plants defend against current security threats.  In particular, communities should be assured that plants are prepared to defend against large attacking forces and commercial aircraft.

I raise these concerns because, in its proposed rule, the NRC acknowledged the direction given by Congress rather than addressing the factors in the rulemaking proposal.  The Commission instead invited public comment on “whether or how the 12 factors should be addressed in the DBT rule.”  It is my hope that the final rule will clearly state that the NRC followed the law and address the factors outlined by Congress.

The Commission’s statutory duty is to public health and safety.  As you know, the NRC’s actions on the DBT is a matter of significant interest for the EPW Committee as it conducts both its legislative and oversight responsibilities.  I am following this matter very closely, and will expect the NRC to explain its final actions on the DBT when it next appears before the Committee.


Barbara Boxer, US Senator, California
U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer