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The Office of Congresswoman and Ranking Member Cynthia McKinney: International Operations and Human Rights

October 3, 2001

The Role of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Safeguarding Against Acts of Terrorism

Thank you Madame Chair for calling this timely hearing.

For decades, millions of citizens in the United States and across the world have strongly opposed the use of nuclear power.

Now, in the shadow of the tragic and sobering attacks in New York and here in Washington, no time is better than now to seriously question the logic and sustainability of nuclear energy use.

Why? Not even considering the fact that we will never find a safe way to dispose of nuclear waste, we simply cannot guarantee the containment dome strength of any reactor in the world that will withstand a modern day jet crash or that key auxiliary buildings that house spent fuel pools could survive such attacks.

Clearly, the pre-September 11th Nuclear Regulatory Commission precautions were based on erroneous assumptions that attackers would try to avoid risking their own lives, would lack skills and resources to cause serious harm, and would probably be thwarted by intelligence agents.

According to Rigor Khripunov, the associate director of the University of Georgia's center for International Trade and Security who studies nuclear issues, "Sept. 11th was a watershed in the perception of threats as we still had illusions that terrorists may have some inhibitions in using those weapons of mass destruction. But, they used such a weapon" by slamming hijacked jets into selected targets. There are no inhibitions, and that includes nuclear weapons."

Last week, according to one of the agencies present here at today's hearing, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), stated that "though nuclear plants are by far the most robust civilian buildings in the world, they would unlikely survive a direct hit from an airliner fully laden with fuel, a deliberate hit of that sort is something that was never in any scenario at the design stage. These are vulnerable targets and the consequences of a direct hit could be catastrophic".

The reality is - had the terrorists chosen a reactor to hit on September 11th, we would be talking about hundreds of thousands dead and contamination over a wide area.

This new degree of vulnerability comes at a time when Nuclear Power plants across the United States, in the months preceding the attack, had failed numerous security tests based on mock attacks from land. There is no testing from the water and none from the land.

In an article published last week by Scripps Howard News Service, entitled "U.S nuclear plants fail security tests" reporter Ryan Alessi documents security tests over the last decade where teams of ex-Navy SEALS have "penetrated nearly half of the nation's 103 nuclear power plants-even with as much as six month's warning for a test". These tests resulted in severe damage to "target sets" such as key valves and pumps, which would result in a meltdown of the reactors.

Worldwide, the amount of weapons-usable plutonium in the civilian fuel cycle is also of growing concern. The civil stockpiles now rival the amount of plutonium held by the military nuclear weapons states. Both France and Britain each hold a stockpile of about 60 tons of civilian plutonium, Russia has about 30 tons and Japan domestically holds about 5 tons of plutonium. Given that only a few kilograms of plutonium are sufficient for a nuclear weapon, avenues for theft, diversion and attack are of increased concern in light of the events of September 11.

Yet, neither US agencies nor the IAEA have come forward with efforts to halt the accumulation of and commerce in plutonium for nuclear power purposes. Efforts simply center around controls placed on the material and not around efforts to ban the production of plutonium, which has no commercial value when used as a nuclear fuel. Given the proliferation and environmental risks associated with plutonium, efforts must now begin to halt the growth of plutonium stockpiles and to dispose of this dangerous material as nuclear waste. The time for sweeping this problem under the rug has ceased. The US must actively work for closure of all plutonium reprocessing facilities and for a halt in commerce in plutonium - key components of a true "fissile material ban."

With this in mind, we must consider the following chilling facts - Security measures are usually now left to each individual power plant. There is very little government oversight on security.

There are no consistent security measures between each plant and - would you believe it, a self-policing program by the nuclear is scheduled to start this fall and approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

Clearly we must reverse the trend towards deregulation. We must have external oversight over these plants.

Many nuclear safety experst believe that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has refused to upgrade security requirements at nuclear power plants over the last years and is essentially doing nothing under industry pressure - in order to reduce cost to industry and reduce "regulatory burden." At least the IAEA admitted right after Sept. 11 that nuclear power plants weren't designed against a crash of an airliner. It took the US NRC and US nuclear industry some time to admit that.

As retired rear admiral and former director of U.S military operations in Europe and the Middle East, Eugene Carroll recently wrote in an editorial entitled " Nuclear Plants Could Be Next Targets of Terrorists, "since when have private companies voluntarily disclosed security shortcomings and made costly improvements to their security systems and personnel training ? ".

These failed security tests came at a time that many in the power industry and elected officials along with members of the Bush administration were pushing for expanded Nuclear Power use.

Vice-President Cheney stated earlier in the year that the greater use of nuclear energy must be a part of the country's long-term energy strategy.

Many outside the beltway will now demand that they have a voice in halting the increase in Nuclear Power production.

Though nuclear power constitutes 20% of the U.S power supply- I think we might all make the sacrifice in increasing our conservation efforts if it meant avoiding a Nuclear holocaust.

Perhaps Rear Admiral Carroll says it best, "no matter how much security we put into place only by alleviating abject poverty and hopelessness in the poorest nations in the world can we eliminate the spirit that breeds terrorists & the sense that even death is preferable to life under unbearable conditions. This will not be an easy or inexpensive challenge. But, it is far less costly than the perpetual cycle of attack and reprisal and with targets like nuclear reactors to aim at".

I look forward to hearing from our witnesses.


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