Federal regulators yesterday rejected requests from a nuclear policy group to bolster security at atomic power plants, including protections against the type of air attack that destroyed the World Trade Center on Sept. 11.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission turned down a formal petition from the Committee to Bridge the Gap, which contends that nuclear power stations remain vulnerable to assaults by airplanes and by groups of terrorists operating on foot.
NRC officials said the requested precautions are not needed now because research indicates that reactors already have "adequate protection" against attacks by airliners.
Bridge the Gap, a nonprofit group that has worked on nuclear safety issues for 25 years, proposed in 2004 that the NRC require atomic power plants to build giant steel cages around reactor buildings to deflect impacts from large commercial planes.
The California-based group further asked the NRC to increase from 5 to at least 19 the number of attackers each nuclear power plant must be prepared to defend against. The organization's number is based on the 19 terrorists who hijacked airliners on Sept. 11.
Instead, commission members adopted regulations on Monday similar to security directives it imposed without public hearings on operators of commercial reactors in April 2003.
Though the details are confidential for national security reasons, the directives deal with the size, training and composition of security forces; reactor security; barriers to protect against truck or car bombs; the sizes of security perimeters; and the numbers of terrorists that plants must defend against.
"We are taking a multi-faceted approach to security enhancements in this post 9/11 threat environment, and looking at how best to secure existing nuclear power plants," said NRC Chairman Dale Klein.