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NRC Strengthens Security at Nuclear Plants

12/18/2008 -The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) yesterday approved final rules enhancing and expanding security at the nation's nuclear power reactors.

The rules, reports the Associated Press, update emergency requirements imposed on nuclear power plants after 9-11.

Nuclear plants must now revise their security plans to address four areas of concern. First, plants must create a safety/security interface to ensure that security measures do not adversely affect "other plant activities,"in the words of the NRC. Second, plants must create a comprehensive cybersecurity plan. Third, plants must devise defense strategies and response procedures to meet the threat of a 9-11-style aircraft attack. Finally, security personnel at the plant must meet new training and qualification requirements.

Because of security concerns, the NRC did not go into the details of the new requirements.

The point of the final rules is for plants to be prepared for a wide variety of threats.

”Essentially,” Scott Morris,deputy director for reactor security at the NRC , told Connecticut's The Day  “we're saying, if the worst beyond worst happens and you are faced with an attack ... we want (plant owners) to devise pre-planned strategies using readily available equipment. We want you to think through this and be prepared.”

The NRC, however, rejected a petition by theThree Mile Island Alert watchdog group that would require nuclear plants to post armed security guards at each entrance. Plants therefore retain the ability to decide for themselves whether armed guards are necessary. Nuclear security critics like TMIA fear unarmed security personnel would not be able to repel an armed, coordinated terrorist attack.

According to the NRC:

The final rule is the result of more than four years of work, three public meetings and several opportunities for public comment. Significant stakeholder feedback was received during the process, which resulted in changes to the content, format and organization of the final rule.

The rule will go into effect by mid-January 2009.