Publication Laka-library:
Assessing the risk of terrorist attacks on nuclear facilities

AuthorPOST (Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology)
DateJuly 2004

From the publication:

The events of September 11th 2001 heightened concerns over the potential for
terrorist attacks on nuclear facilities. The purpose of this report is to provide
Parliamentarians with an overview of what is publicly known about the risks and
the consequences of such an attack, either at a facility in the UK, or overseas,
with very direct impacts in the UK. This report identifies the main issues of
concern according to reports in the public domain, and highlights areas where
understanding is limited due to lack of publicly available information.

The key points made in this report are as follows:

• There is sufficient information in the public domain to identify possible ways
    terrorists might bring about a release of radioactive material from a nuclear
    facility. However this information is not sufficient to draw conclusions on the
    likelihood of a successful attack, or the size and nature of any release.
•   After September 11th 2001 additional protection measures have been put in
    place to increase security and to strengthen emergency planning at and
    around nuclear facilities. However, full details are not in the public domain.
•   Nuclear power plants were not designed to withstand some forms of terrorist
    attack, such as large aircraft impact, but existing safety and security regimes
    provide some defence.
•   Published reports suggest that, in a worst case scenario, the impact of large
    aircraft on certain facilities could cause a significant release of radioactive
    material with effects over a wide area. However, some analysts question the
    accuracy of these reports, and argue that accurately targeting these facilities
    would be difficult.
•   A successful attack would be highly unlikely to cause large numbers of instant
    fatalities. Although it would have the potential to affect extensive areas of
    land and cause large numbers of cancers, its impact would depend on how
    effectively appropriate contingency plans were implemented.
•   Even an unsuccessful attack could have economic and social repercussions
    and affect public confidence in nuclear activities such as power generation.
•   Published reports draw widely different conclusions about the consequences
    of attacks on nuclear facilities, due to differing assumptions about the size
    and nature of the release, weather conditions and efficiency of
•   Media coverage of the risk of releases of radioactive material from nuclear
    facilities focuses mainly on the consequences of worst case scenarios, without
    discussing the likelihood of their occurrence or explaining assumptions made.
•   Analyses carried out by UK nuclear operators to investigate the consequences
    of accidents at nuclear plants could be used to further understanding of the
    potential consequences of terrorist attacks. However these analyses are
    largely not publicly available. The scope of further work would be limited
    without such information.

A four page summary of this report is available from POST