Earlier this week, in response to Russian assaults on nuclear plants in Ukraine, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida called for the creation of a specialized Japanese nuclear security force to secure Japan’s nuclear plants against military attack. The governor of Fukui, which hosts Japan’s largest number of reactors, went further: He requested Japan’s defense ministry build dedicated military bases to halt such attacks.
What’s stunning is how sharply Japan’s response to Russia’s attacks contrasted with Washington’s.
Victor Gilinsky and I spotlighted this in the attached The National Interest piece, “Russian Invasion of Ukraine Spotlights the Dangers of Nuclear Reactors in War.” In it, we note how our Energy Department has been more intent in reassuring Americans about how little radiation was released from the plants in Ukraine than in clarifying what their military vulnerabilities are. As we explain, this penchant for downplaying the military vulnerabilities of nuclear facilities is as old as commercial nuclear power in the United States. The department, in fact, is still keen to export reactors to Jordan, Romania, Poland, the Czech Republic, and — until last month — Ukraine.
If we are serious about nuclear security, this has got to change. At a minimum, Congress should follow Japan’s lead and ask the Pentagon to clarify what the military vulnerabilities of civil nuclear plants are and identify what, if anything, can be done to reduce them. Meanwhile, instead of pushing reactor exports to potential war zones, our government and others should tap the brakes.
March 17, 2022
Author: Henry Sokolski and Victor Gilinsky
Russian Invasion of Ukraine Spotlights the Dangers of Nuclear Reactors in War
By Victor Gilinsky and Henry Sokolski
Just as the terrorist attacks on 9/11 required a reexamination of how best to protect against terrorist airplane hijackings, Russia’s military assault on Ukrainian nuclear plants raises questions about the security of nuclear reactors in war zones. In the wake of 2001, the United States quickly took simple but effective measures to prevent a repeat of 9/11. Comparable quick fixes are likely not possible for protecting nuclear power reactors on a battlefield. The concern is, of course, the possible spread of radioactivity from the reactor’s core and even more from the reactor’s highly radioactive store of used fuel.
The Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), the predecessor of the Department of Energy, concluded that it was not practicable to build protection for reactors against military attacks. In 1967, it rejected a public request for such protection against Cuban missiles for the Turkey Point reactors in south Florida on grounds that the AEC’s established policy was not to require special design features to protect against enemy attacks. The Court of Appeals agreed with the AEC’s decision in 1968.
“What the Commission has essentially decided is that to impose such a burden would be to stifle utterly the peaceful utilization of atomic energy in the United States,” the Court of Appeals decision said.
Even though a condition for every nuclear plant license is that its issuance is not inimical to the “common defense and security,” the AEC, with the approval of the Court of Appeals, claimed that Congress never intended that to encompass anything having to do with enemy actions.
To read the full article click here.