NRC reports on nuclear plant ‘force-on-force’ exercises

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) recently provided a publicly-available report to both the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and the House Energy and Commerce Committee on how U.S. power reactors fared during mock terror attacks.

Nuclear power plants and fuel cycle installations across the United States engaged in required ‘force-on-force’ exercises in 2012 where security squads coped with mock attacks on their facilities.

“This report describes NRC’s efforts to ensure the protection of the nation’s nuclear power infrastructure against terrorist attacks,” said NRC Chairman Allison Macfarlane. “The NRC is committed to ensuring the nation’s commercial nuclear facilities continue to be safe and secure,” Macfarlane said in a July 9 statement.

During 2012, the NRC conducted 173 baseline security inspections at commercial nuclear power plants and 23 force-on-force inspections, which use a well-trained mock adversary force to test a facility’s security posture.

These inspections identified 153 findings, of which 146 were of very low security significance and seven were greater than very low security significance. By comparison, there were 217 security inspections (193 baseline and 24 force-on-force) and 151 findings in 2011, of which 140 were of very low security significance and 11 of greater than very low security significance.

Whenever a finding is identified during a security inspection, the NRC ensures the issue is corrected immediately or compensatory measures are put in place, if necessary. Details of security findings are considered sensitive and not released to the public.

The Atomic Energy Act of 1954 mandated both classified and non-classified reports be published for Congress. Force-on-force exercises pre-date the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, but NRC and Congress have put more emphasis on such security measures since then.

The NRC delivered its annual report to lawmakers June 28.

Conducting such exercises and implementing the security inspection program are two of many NRC efforts to ensure the secure and safe management of nuclear materials at domestic sites, the NRC said.

“In support of these activities, the NRC evaluates relevant intelligence information and vulnerability analyses to determine realistic and practical security requirements and mitigative strategies,” the NRC said.

The NRC seeks to ensure that the facilities it regulates can protect against attacks by armed intruders and also “provide high assurance of adequate protection against the design basis threat (DBT) of radiological sabotage,” according to the report.

Since the early 2000s, the NRC and the plants it regulates have also been working to beef up “cyber security” as well.

A force-on-force (FOF) inspection typically takes four weeks and includes both tabletop drills and exercises that simulate combat between a mock adversary force and the licensee’s security force.

At a nuclear power plant, the adversary force attempts to reach and simulate damage to significant systems and components (referred to as “target sets”) that protect the reactor’s core or the spent fuel pool, which could potentially cause a radioactive release to the environment.

A force-on-force inspection typically consists of three such exercises. NRC conducted 23 force-on-force inspections during 2012.

Although NRC issued various “findings” during CY 2012, none “resulted from the failure to effectively protect designated target set components” during the force exercises.

Two security exercises were canceled due to potential safety concerns associated with dangerous weather conditions and other extenuating circumstances.

Incidents at DOE, TVA have made news in past year

The most widely-publicized recent intrusion into a U.S. nuclear facility did not occur at a commercial nuclear power plant but rather at U.S. Department of Energy’s Y-12 National Security Complex nuclear facility in Tennessee. In July 2012, three unarmed protesters successfully breached the perimeter intrusion detection and assessment system before being detained by site security.

During the investigation, it was discovered that the protesters had a variety of tools and items for use during the breach. These tools and items included flashlights, binoculars, red “danger” tape, backpacks, bolt cutters, hammers, spray paint, and paraphernalia related to their organization and cause.

Although the Y-12 facility is not regulated by the NRC, the NRC issued a security advisory to assist facility managers and other security personnel responsible for protecting NRC-licensed facilities.

Earlier in 2013, there was a security incident at a Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) nuclear complex. In April of this year a TVA security officer traded gunfire with a trespasser at the Watts Bar nuclear station property. The FBI investigated that incident.

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at