‘Force-on-Force’ drills test ability to prevent post-9/11 intrusions
TOWN OF TWO CREEKS — Federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission officials say there has never been a security breach into an American power plant.
It’s certainly not a matter of luck, say staff members at the NRC and Wisconsin’s two nuclear power plants — Kewaunee Power Station and Point Beach Nuclear Power Plant in the town on the northern edge of Manitowoc County.
Sara Cassidy, manager of nuclear communications for NextEra Point Beach, says the industry has spent $1.2 billion and many thousands of hours of training in the decade since 9/11 on security enhancements in response to NRC mandates.
Part of the money has been spent on “simunition,” which are non-lethal projectiles that can be fired from rifles during intense “Force-on-Force” mock adversary drills held every three years.
“You definitely know when you’ve been struck,” says Manitowoc County Sheriff Rob Hermann, whose SWAT team participates. “You’ll feel it and see a mark.”
“The scenario had the bad guys coming in over the fence and the plant security force had to annihilate the enemy,” Nancy Crowley, Manitowoc County’s emergency management director, says of witnessing a potential hostile takeover.
Cassidy says the “enemy” sometimes is armed with insider knowledge of the plants’ security plans.
What is plainly visible to anyone driving Wisconsin 42 are the big boulders and high fencing serving as the outer perimeter since 9/11 at Kewaunee Power Station in the town of Carlton.
But that is just the tip of the security iceberg, says Viktoria Mytling, senior public affairs at NRC Region III headquarters in Lisle, Ill.
“After 9/11 the paradigm changed completely to one where an adversary that would want to take over a nuclear plant would be willing to die to do so,” Mytling says.
“New NRC requirements have required a lot of expense and work form every single utility,” she says.
Security upgrades mandated by the NRC have focused on:
- Well-trained and armed security officers;
- High-tech equipment and physical barriers including large boulders and concrete panels;
- Greater standoff distances for vehicle checks;
- Intrusion detection and surveillance systems;
- Frequently tested emergency preparedness and response plans;
- Restrictive site access control, including background checks and fingerprinting.
“We are talking about a paramilitary level of training and expertise to become a security officer at a nuclear power plant,” Mytling says.
She says the “Force-on-Force” drills usually begin at night and continue to three consecutive nights.
Mytling says plant officials are told when an exercise is going to commence.
“We don’t want the security guards shooting at the mock adversary with real ammunition,” she says. Another full contingent of non-drilling security officers is on scene just in case there was a real attack.
Citing security concerns, NRC officials do not release results — including potential weaknesses shown in plant security plan design or drill execution.
However, Kewaunee County Sheriff Matt Joski does not believe citizens are at risk.
“Their level of security is second to none when it comes to training, equipment and resources,” Joski says in explaining why no nuclear plant has had an intrusion jeopardizing operations.
During mock attack drills, Joski’s deputies work with Hermann’s for “buffer zone protection” immediately outside the nuclear plant.
“We reimburse the local communities for all expenses linked to any of our drills,” says Mark Kanz, local affairs manager for Kewaunee Power Station. “It is just a necessary part of doing business.”
A University of Wisconsin-Madison engineering physics professor, Michael Corradini, expressed confidence in the security measures adopted by America’s nuclear plants.
“As ‘design-basis’ threats they are very hard targets,” Corradini says. “They really don’t present an enormous concern to the public.”
On his own campus, which has a small non-power reactor, Corradini says university experts had analyzed potential threats to health and well-being.
He says they came to the conclusion that any threat from nuclear material “was miniscule” compared to chemical and biological sources on campus.
Enhanced post-9/11 security precautions impress Jim Soletski, former two-term state representative from Green Bay, after a career in the nuclear industry as an engineering analyst.
During his tenure in Madison, Soletski says he arranged two tours of the nuclear plants by fellow legislators. “You could tell the amount of personnel dedicated to security has continued to go up, higher every time …
“But you can never say, ‘This is good enough.’ Then you might (become) lax about how you approach security and, in the long run, it is all worthwhile,” Soletski says.
The NRC also has security dictates related to preventing sabotage or operator malfunction by employees.
Even before 9/11, workers had to walk through an explosives detector, followed by an airport-style metal detector, then have their hand scanned with the biometrics matched to the individual ID swipe card enabling entry.
Al Lewis, a Point Beach auxiliary operator who lives on Nuclear Road right across from the main entrance, says employees don’t know about all the security precautions implemented.
He says the periodic psychological evaluations are more comprehensive than when he joined Point Beach nearly 35 years ago after serving on board a U.S. Navy nuclear submarine.
“You can get random drug-tested several days in a row,” Lewis says, noting the security force has been tripled since 9/11.
He doesn’t question the heightened security.
“It’s always in the back of your mind that terrorists who have no sense of right or wrong might be willing to do something crazy … are so committed to their beliefs they are willing to throw their life into the fire,” Lewis says.
Attack by air-sea
If a terrorist tried to fly a plane, even one as large as a wide-bodied jet, into a nuclear reactor, a likely result, based on studies by the NRC and Nuclear Energy Institute, would be a fireball.
But not inside the 6-inch steel nuclear reactor vessel encased in about 4 feet of steel-reinforced concrete.
An NEI video shows a jet slamming into a mock reactor vessel structure and bursting into flames. “There’s not much left of the jet,” Kanz says.
Curt Drumm, Lakeshore Aviation and fixed-base operator at Manitowoc County Airport, says the Federal Aviation Administration no longer has “no fly zones” over the two Wisconsin nuclear plants.
But FAA regulations still prohibit loitering. “If I am flying from Sheboygan to Door County I can fly right over but I better not start doing circles over the plant,” Drumm says of action that might prompt response by military aircraft.
All the security measure in place doesn’t mean there haven’t been incursions into prohibited space.
Buoys about 500 yards off the shoreline in front of the Point Beach and Kewaunee plants have been placed in Lake Michigan to warn boaters to not get too close to the nuclear plants.
The U.S. Coast Guard does regular patrols and relies on plant security personnel and others in the community to alert it to unwelcome visitors.
“We did have a lone fisherman from Kewaunee in August who wanted to fish the warmer waters,” says William Blair, executive petty officer at the Two Rivers U.S.C.G. station.
Blair says by the time Coast Guard personnel arrive the intruding boater often is gone from the area.
But if they see him, they’ll run down the boater and provide education about the inappropriate incursion.
“There hasn’t been a repeat offender or someone giving us lip about having to get out of the area,” Blair says.
Charlie Mathews can be reached at (920) 686-2969 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kewaunee power station
- Located on about 900 acres in Carlton on Lake Michigan about 35 miles southeast of Green Bay in southern Kewaunee County.
- Owned by Dominion, headquartered in Virginia.
- Began commercial operation in 1974 as the fourth nuclear plant built in Wisconsin, with licensed renewed by Nuclear Regulatory Commission through 2033.
- Generates 556 megawatts of electricity from its single unit, enough to meet the needs of 140,000 homes.
- Employs about 700 during normal operations, additional hundreds during refueling.
Point Beach Nuclear Plant
- Located on about 1,200 acres in Town of Two Creeks, about five miles south of Kewaunee Power Station down Wisconsin 42, in northern Manitowoc County.
- Owned by Florida-based NextEra Energy Resources.
- Has two reactors going into service in 1970 and 1973 with license renewal by NRC of Unit 1 through 2030 and Unit 2 through 2033.
- The two units generate 1,023 megawatts, enough to produce about one-sixth of all the electric power in the state of Wisconsin.
- Employs about 690 during normal operations, additional hundreds during refueling.
Source: NextEra Energy Resources
- The NRC issued new orders post-9/11 including a new cyber security rule issued in 2009. Utility officials at Kewaunee Power Station and Point Beach Nuclear Plant state their computer systems share crucial operating data only within their facilities — not potentially available to hackers hoping to use the Internet to access sensitive information.
- The new rule imposes new requirements pertaining to plant employees who have electronic means to interfere with plant safety, security or emergency preparedness. They include enhanced psychological assessments.
Source: Nuclear Regulatory Commission
- NRC and utility officials stress that the nuclear plants would be difficult to penetrate.
- According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, reactors are typically protected by about 4 feet of steel-reinforced concrete with a thick steel liner, and the reactor vessel is made of steel about 6 inches thick. Steel-reinforced concrete containment structures are designed to withstand the impact of many natural disasters, including hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes and floods, as well as airborne objects with a substantial force.
- The NRC states it has conducted studies that have determined an aircraft impact is unlikely to result in core damage or a radiological release.
- An NEI video, www.nei.org, shows a wide-body jet slamming into a structure similar to reactor. It bursts into flames but does not penetrate the structure.
Source: Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Nuclear Energy Institute
- The NRC mandates various measures designed to ensure nuclear plant workers are trustworthy and reliable.
- The “Access Authorization” program controls who is allowed unescorted access to protected areas. They must pass several evaluations and background checks including drug and alcohol screening, psychological evaluation, a check with former employers, assessment of education records, criminal history check by the FBI, and credit history.
- “Fitness-for-Duty” program includes random drug and alcohol testing, as well as work-hour limits to minimize fatigue-related errors.
- A “Behavioral Observation” program seeks to identify behavior changes that if unmonitored or unaddressed might indicate a person may act in a manner detrimental to public safety.
Source: Nuclear Regulatory Commission