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Indian Point Report Contradicts Experts on Effect of Attack


WASHINGTON, Jan. 20 If a terrorist attack on a reactor released radiation, the timing and quantity of those releases would be no different from those in an accident, according to emergency planning officials and experts in nuclear power who were recently involved in the first drill involving just such a script.

Their view contradicts a central point in a report released Jan. 10 concerning emergency planning at the Indian Point nuclear power plant in Westchester County. That report, by James Lee Witt, a former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, set off a new round of controversy about nuclear reactors and found that the Indian Point plans "do not consider the possible additional ramifications of a terrorist-caused release" and said such attacks would have "unique consequences."

The plant's opponents argue that the reactors pose an unacceptable risk in an age of terrorism. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission defines risk as a combination of two factors: the probability of an accident and its consequences.

No one claims to be able to predict the likelihood of a terrorist attack, but it is now clear that emergency planners and reactor experts believe that the consequences of a radiation release from a terrorist attack would not be any different from those in a serious accident.

"I would say it's about the same," said James E. Booker, a consultant to the independent safety committee established by California for the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant. In October, that plant became the first in the country to hold an emergency drill based on a hypothetical terrorist attack rather than an accident.

At the federal emergency office in Oakland, Calif., Richard R. Echavarria, a technological hazards program specialist who evaluated the Diablo Canyon drill, said that "terrorist attacks are just another circumstance to generate the kind of scenario they've been exercising." Mr. Echavarria also helped evaluate the Indian Point drill, which was held in September, a month before the California drill.

E. Gail de Planque, a former member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission who serves on the Diablo Canyon advisory committee and attended the drill, said: "If you're going to release radiation from the core, it wouldn't be any different. It would be the same scenario, regardless of the cause."

Mr. Booker, who helped develop the emergency plan for a reactor in Louisiana while he was a manager there, and Mr. Echavarria, who said he had also been involved in drills in Arizona and Washington, both said it would take multiple failures to reach the point that radiation was released, no matter what the nature of the event. They said a terrorist attack was not likely to cause a leak any more quickly than an accident. Other experts pointed out that the amount of radioactive material available for release was the same in all cases.

The Diablo Canyon drill was based on the premise that a rogue employee at the plant blew up some pumps supplying cooling water to the reactor. Combined with various mechanical failures, that caused damage to the core, and, according to the script, radiation escaped inside the containment dome and then was released to the outside.

In the test, while plant workers were trying to cope with the loss of the pumps and various mechanical failures, they were told that a car bomb had been detonated near a power line and that a small plane had crashed into a substation, in what appeared to be a coordinated effort to cut off electricity needed to cool the reactor.

In the script for the drill, the plant began releasing radiation about two hours after the pumps were bombed.

George M. Brown, the emergency services coordinator for San Luis Obispo, where the plant is situated, said there was no reason to think a terrorist attack would be more sudden than other disasters, like earthquakes.

People with long experience in plant drills said this was the first in which terrorism played a major role. The scenario was written by the plant owner, Pacific Gas and Electric, at the request of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The drills are normally concocted to test the ability of plant officials to work with nearly public safety officials; this one was also supposed to test cooperation with a new participant, the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Arguments on both sides of the question that there is nothing fundamentally different about a nuclear release begun by terrorism, as well as Mr. Witt's contention of the opposite are untested, since there has never been a release resulting from a terrorist attack. And in the 23 years since the emergency planning requirements were established, there have been hardly any from accidents, either. Those requirements were set up soon after the Three Mile Island accident in March 1979 and have very rarely required any action outside the plant fence.

The consensus among members of the nuclear commission and other government officials involved in emergency planning is that if a plan is adequate for accident protection, it would be equally applicable to terrorist attacks.

But Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is a sponsor of a bill to set higher requirements for plant security, said the problem might not be a difference between accidents and sabotage. "According to the Witt report, the plans are inadequate, period, whether you're talking about accident or attack," she said. "That doesn't give me any comfort."

Mrs. Clinton added that officials probably had a better idea of the range of possible accidents than of the range of terrorist possibilities.

THREATS AND RESPONSES: ANTITERRORISM; Little Headway In Terror War, Democrats Say  (November 15, 2002)  $

THREATS AND RESPONSES: GAPS IN SECURITY; Report Finds U.S. Unprepared for Next Terrorist Attack  (October 25, 2002)  $

THREATS AND RESPONSES: ASSESSING RISKS; Split on Nuclear Plants: Weak Spot or Fortress?  (October 24, 2002)  $

Ads Aim at Shutting A-Plant  (October 3, 2002)  $

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