Security guards at nuclear power plants will soon be prohibited from carrying handguns, according to a Wednesday statement by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA).
TVA claims that a recent regulatory review concluded handguns were obsolete compared to other security measures protecting the power plants, but would not clarify what these new measures were citing security concerns. TVA seemingly intends to remove handguns from their security system by the end of the year.
TVA’s own security officers have gone on record strongly objecting to the change.
“Radiological release, that’s what they’re after. Terrorists are after to kill as many as they can in the quickest way.” Paul Tackett, a veteran nuclear security officer at TVA’s Watts Bar reactor, told a local news station. “They’re [TVA] talking about taking away our handguns. I mean, if we’re utilities at night, we have no way of protecting ourselves.”
A successful theft of uranium from a nuclear power plant could have catastrophic consequences. The sort of low-quality uranium and plutonium used in nuclear reactors could be used to make low-tech nuclear explosives often called “dirty bomb.”
“The safety and security of our facilities and host communities is and will always be our top priority,” a spokesperson for the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “Our security officers employ powerful weapons such as automatic rifles and shotguns, meaning that phasing out sidearms does not reduce our solid commitment to safety and security.”
“Anything is possible to happen at anytime,” Tackett said. “It was just a few years ago when we had an officer shot at out here.”
A dirty bomb combines radioactive material with conventional explosives that could contaminate the local area with high radiation levels for long periods of time and cause mass panic, though it would be millions of times weaker than an actual nuclear device. The Islamic State (ISIS) has expressed interest in stealing this kind of radioactive material for a dirty bomb.
“Some 9,000 well-armed and highly trained security personnel protect America’s nuclear power facilities, about the number of active military personnel in many small countries,” the NEI spokesperson told TheDCNF. “Our defenses are formidable, our weaponry is state of the art and our security tactics evolve frequently to ensure safety.”
However, actually employing a dirty bomb would be very difficult for terrorists, as radiation is very easy to track and sufficient quantities of uranium and plutonium are hard to obtain as nuclear reactors are relatively hard targets.
Material to build a nuclear “dirty bomb” was almost smuggled out of a nuclear power plant four years ago, the head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog told reporters in October.
ISIS linked terrorists previously targeted a nuclear reactor in Belgium in an attempt to steal enough nulcear fuel to build such a bomb. Police found surveillance footage of a senior Belgian nuclear official in a raid on the Brussels apartment of alleged terrorist Mohamed Bakkali last February.
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