Several state attorneys general are calling for security upgrades for nuclear power plants. (Photo by Lester Graham)
Several state attorneys general are urging the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to upgrade security at nuclear power plants to defend against terrorist attacks. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
Several state attorneys general are urging the Nuclear
Regulatory Commission to upgrade security at nuclear power plants
to defend against terrorist attacks. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has stepped up security at nuclear power
plants since the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001, but it’s still
using a defense plan designed 35 years ago based on four men attacking by
A nuclear watchdog group called Committee to Bridge the Gap has filed
a petition with the NRC, asking that the plan be updated to take into
account the methods and numbers terrorists have actually used. Seven
attorneys general signed a letter supporting the security update. Paul
Laraby is with the New York Attorney General’s office.
“I think what the AGs are trying to do is to introduce common sense
approach to an emerging threat that perhaps was discounted thirty-five years ago.”
Even after more than three years since the attacks, the NRC still has not
determined how it should upgrade the its defense plans for nuclear power
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.
Officials at the Department of Homeland Security are considering removing hazardous material placards from freight trains. They say doing so will help protect people from terrorists. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mark Brush has more:
Officials at the Department of Homeland Security are considering removing
hazardous material placards from freight trains. They say doing so would help
protect people from terrorists. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mark Brush has more:
Because of the September 11th terrorist attacks, officials see the potential for a
lot of things to be used as weapons. One of their latest fears is that shipments of
hazardous materials could be used by terrorists. In order to protect people from this
threat, the Department of Homeland Security says it might require the removal of the
diamond shaped placards from rail cars. Emergency workers use the placards to quickly
identify a hazard after an accident.
Richard Powell is the Executive Director of the Michigan Association of Fire Chiefs.
He says while the Department of Homeland Security is well-intentioned, removal of the
placards would put more people at risk:
“We need to protect our citizens. We need to keep that system in place. If we don’t know something is there, our people could not evacuate perhaps, as quick as we normally would.”
Homeland Security officials say they’ll consider other options that would help disguise the rail cars, but would still allow emergency workers to know what’s inside.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Mark Brush.
The General Accounting Office has released a report saying that there’s no way to know how secure the nation’s chemical plants are from terrorist attacks. The Congressional Research Agency says that no federal department has looked into the problem yet. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Bill Poorman reports:
The General Accounting Office has released a report saying that there’s
no way to know how secure the nation’s chemical plants are from
terrorist attacks. The Congressional Research Agency says that no
federal department has looked into the problem yet. The Great Lakes
Radio Consortium’s Bill Poorman reports:
The GAO released the study last week. It says that there are 123
chemical plants in the U.S. that are in areas where more than a million
people would be effected by a toxic release. But the GAO says the
government has failed to take a comprehensive approach to addressing
chemical plant security. Kate McGloon is spokesperson for the American
Chemistry Council, an industry trade group. She says many
chemical-makers have already taken steps voluntarily to increase
security since 9/11. But they don’t want to reveal what those
“Homeland Security has stressed to us that one of the best ways to keep
potential terrorists from knowing what they’re doing is to be
unpredictable and random and not tell people what you’re doing.”
McGloon says many chemical companies would welcome federal legislation
putting the government in charge of assessing and enforcing chemical
plant security. For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Bill Poorman.
The Army wants to get rid of its stockpiles of chemical weapons because they fear terrorists might get to them. There are eight Army sites across the U.S. that store those kinds of chemicals. At one site in the Midwest, the military is planning to dispose of Nerve Agent VX. To destroy the stockpiles, the Army must first “water-down” the nerve agent. Then it has to be shipped to a company that disposes of industrial wastes. But while the Army says it’s making neighborhoods safer near where the chemical weapons are stored … some people fear having the watered-down nerve agent trucked into their neighborhoods. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Natalie Walston reports:
The Army wants to get rid of its stockpiles of chemical weapons because they fear terrorists might get to them. There are eight Army sites across the U.S. that store those kinds of chemicals. At one site in the Midwest, the military is planning to dispose of Nerve Agent VX. To destroy the stockpiles, the Army must first “water-down” the nerve agent. Then it has to be shipped to a company that disposes of industrial wastes. But while the Army says it’s making neighborhoods safer near where the chemical weapons are stored, some people fear having the watered-down nerve agent trucked into their neighborhoods. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Natalie Walston reports:
Nerve Agent VX is a clear, odorless liquid with the consistency of motor oil. It was
accidentally created during the Korean War, when British chemists were experimenting
with various concoctions meant to kill lice on North Korean POW’s and refugees. Nerve
Agent VX kills within minutes after contact with the skin. It has never been used in
combat by the United States. Instead, most of the country’s supply sits in a highly-
guarded tank at the Newport Chemical Depot in west-central Indiana. In 1985, Congress
ordered the chemical weapons destroyed because many seemed obsolete. In 1997, the
United States joined the Chemical Weapons Convention, which prohibits countries from
developing, producing, stockpiling or using chemical weapons.
Then, as U.S. Army spokesperson Terry Arthur explains, terrorists slammed planes into
the World Trade Center towers:
“After September 11th, 2001, because the public suddenly became aware of the possibility
for terrorism here in the United States, folks living near the stockpiles became acutely
aware of that. And the army began to look at ways to accelerate destruction of the
The Army is planning to burn some of its chemical weapons in incinerators. The Nerve
Agent VX that’s stored in Newport, Indiana will be destroyed through a neutralization
process. That’s a process that makes the nerve agent no more harmful than a household
(Ambient sound fade up)
The watered-down version of the nerve agent is called hydrolysate. It will be shipped by
tanker truck to Perma-Fix Environmental Services, a company in Dayton, Ohio. It’s a
company that usually handles industrial wastes and used oils.
“If you get your oil changed anywhere at a service station near the Dayton, Ohio area,
chances are, the used oil from your vehicle ends up here.”
That’s company Vice President Tom Trebonik. He says the hydrolysate will, simply put,
be broken down by a natural process. It will be eaten by microscopic bugs. And then it
breaks down even more into a form that will be pumped into the sewer system.
But, once word of a “nerve agent” coming to town spread around the small, poor
neighborhood near the plant, environmentalists began working with residents to voice
opposition to its disposal. They tacked up signs in the local supermarket and carry-out
that read “Deadly VX Nerve Agent” is coming to the neighborhood.
Martha Chatterton is a young mother of one with another child on the way. She lives in a
small house in a decaying area. Her husband fixes cars in the garage out back. They’re
glued to the news on CNN about heightened terror alerts. They know terrorist attacks are
a possibility. But they don’t want a problem from Indiana shipped to their backyard.
Chatterton is worried about the health effects of living near a plant that deals with such
industrial wastes. She says some days the air is orange and smells of a chemical stew.
“Well, last year we did the whole yard with roses and different flowers, and about a week
after we planted them, all of them died. So there’s got… there’s something wrong with
the ground here, because when I dug the hole for the rose tree, it smelled like gas fumes.”
Chatterton fears Perma-Fix won’t be able to properly handle the hydrolysate. The
company was cited in 2001 for odor violation but has since installed equipment to solve
the problem. Beyond that, the U.S. EPA and the Army see no reason why the treated
nerve agent can’t be trucked into town. Again, Army spokesperson Terry Arthur:
“We understand the concern of the public because it’s derived from a chemical agent.
What we want them to understand is that we have truckers who will be dedicated and
trained specifically for hauling this product and getting it across the state line to the Ohio
facility, where experts have been working with this kind of material for years.”
With the threat of terrorism, there’s little that’s likely to slow the pace of the destruction
of the nerve agent. The risks of leaving it intact seem greater than the risks associated
with destroying it.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Natalie Walston.
It’s been almost a year since terrorists attacked the United States. But the repercussions of that morning continue to ripple across the country. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Ann Murray looks at how security concerns are impacting the country’s 50,000 small drinking water systems. These utilities now find themselves scrambling for money, security training and equipment to keep their facilities and water supplies safe:
It’s been almost a year since terrorists attacked the United States. But the repercussions of that morning continue to ripple across the country. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Ann Murray looks at how security concerns are impacting the country’s 50,000 small drinking water systems. These utilities now find themselves scrambling
for money, security training and equipment to keep their facilities and
water supplies safe:
The federal government started thinking seriously about domestic
security well before last September. Four years ago, the Clinton
administration examined the country’s infrastructure. And the results were
sobering. Water and wastewater systems were found to be vulnerable to
physical damage, computer hacking, chemical spills and radiological
Recent CIA reports place large metropolitan water systems on alert as
potential targets for terrorist attacks. But some small system operators
think their plants are vulnerable, too.
(sound of water plant)
“I feel that they could make an example out of a small system that says,
‘Look here, we could do that to a small one. We could do it to a larger
Barry Clemmer has run public water systems in western Pennsylvania for the
past 25 years. Before September 11th, he says his main concern was
vandalism – still the most likely scenario for a security breach. He walks
the fenced perimeter of his facility and points out new security devices.
“We have a camera on the side of one of our buildings that focuses
on the entrance gate. We monitor 24 hours a day. It’s hard to keep someone
out but it’s a deterrent and might slow them down from getting in.”
(sound of key in lock)
Although the front of the plant is now more secure, Clemmer continues
to worry about the intake system. That’s where raw river water is piped
into the treatment plant.
Clemmer: “Excuse me, I’ll open the gate.”
The river flows about 30 feet below the gated back of the facility. Clemmer walks down a wooden stairway to the unguarded riverbank. He shakes his head and says that terrorists could attack his plant from here.
“They could come up the river on a boat and hop out and go right
there and drop something in. It’d only take five minutes and our water
could be contaminated.”
Plans are in the works to secure the area where raw water is
taken into the plant. But Clemmer says that he still needs a security camera to
keep a close eye on the river. That will require additional grant dollars
because there isn’t money in the budget for security equipment and the
local community says it can’t afford the extra expense.
John Mori is director of the National Environmental Services Center, a federally funded technical assistance group. He says budget constraints are nothing new to small communities. It’s just that financial limitations have taken on an added dimension in this past year.
“Small systems historically have never gotten a share… an appropriate
share of federal dollars under the various loan programs. The point is there
are hundreds of thousands of Americans in small communities, medium size
communities and they need equal assurance that their water is safe and protected.”
Unlike metropolitan areas, Mori says smaller communities just don’t
have a big pool of qualified water personnel. So already overburdened
operators must now take on the responsibility of keeping their facilities
safe from terrorism.
“These are hardworking men and women who may have two or three or four
jobs in a community trying to do everything at once and make sure their
customers get good, safe water. So I think they’re determined about this. I
just think they need some help.”
Since September 11th, most help – in the form of new federal dollars
and security training – has gone to large water utilities. Metropolitan
water plants serve about 80 percent of the U.S. population. But Andy
Bielanski, with EPA’s newly formed Water Protection Task Force, says that the
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is moving slowly but deliberately to also
help small water systems.
“What we’re doing is taking input and feedback from states, other
technical assistance organizations and agencies, on how best to approach
this problem. And we’ve been taking this all into consideration in trying
to provide security assistance to small systems.”
EPA and other agencies now face the daunting task of reaching more than
50,000 small water utilities. These utilities vary in size, customer base
and technical sophistication.
This past May, Congress mandated water utilities with more than 3,300
customers to conduct vulnerability assessments. Operators must then create
emergency response plans to address not only terrorism but vandalism or
natural disasters. Before September 11th, many small systems didn’t have
workable emergency plans in place.
(sound of conference)
At a pilot seminar for small system security, Tom Sherman with Michigan’s
Rural Community Assistance Program says Michigan’s systems are just like
many other small water utilities: they’re beginning from scratch.
“It’s kind of like ground zero. We’re just starting out. It’s something we knew we
had to address and you just need the input to know you’re going in the right direction.”
To make sure that small water operations are heading in the right direction, the federal government is trying to improve its outreach to small and medium size communities. Some funds have already been distributed to help these communities evaluate the safety of their water systems and upgrade their security. More than $70 million additional dollars await the approval of Congress and the President.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Ann Murray.
The Coast Guard and local agencies have declared 22 security zones on the Great Lakes… areas which are now off-limits to boaters under penalty of up to a $10,000 fine. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mike Simonson reports:
The Coast Guard and local agencies have declared 22 security zones on the Great Lakes…areas which are now off-limits to boaters under penalty of up to a $10,000 fine. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mike Simonson reports:
Guard Petty Officer Paul Roszkowski says this is a reaction to the 9-11 terrorist attacks. He says not all of the zones are marked yet, but eventually will be with yellow buoys. He says the first time violators will be warned.
“Right now there are several security zones throughout the Great Lakes around nuclear power plants, around water filtration areas that boaters are going to have to keep an eye out for this boating season.”
Roszkowski says the Coast Guard is also organizing what they call “Eyes on the Water” programs in local ports. These get boaters to call in anything out of the ordinary.
“Especially people hunting and fishing in locations that are not typically used for those activities…Unattended vessels, any aggressive activities, any unusual filming, vessels operating in areas vessels don’t normally operate.”
Roszkowski says this is part of our changed world since 9-11.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Mike Simonson.
The Earth Liberation Front claimed responsibility for burning this house under construction near Bloomington, Indiana in 1999. Photo courtesy Herald-Times, by Jeremy Hogan.
The Earth Liberation Front is an underground group that attacks institutions it believes harm the environment. During the past five years, its members have caused approximately $40 million in damages. E.L.F’s most notorious acts of destruction include torching a luxury ski resort, destroying the executive offices of a forest-product company, and setting on fire university labs involved in genetically-modified crop research. For some time, environmentalists and others have debated whether this sort of activity was simply a public protest, or acts of terrorism. But since September 11th, that debate has escalated with increased efforts to label those involved in such attacks as terrorists. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Todd Melby has this report:
The Earth Liberation Front is an underground group that attacks institutions it
believes harm the environment. During the past five years, its members have caused
approximately $40 million in damages. E.L.F.’s most notorious acts of destruction include torching a luxury ski resort, destroying the executive offices of a forest-product
company, and setting on fire university labs involved in genetically-modified crop research. For some time, environmentalists and others have debated whether this sort of activity was simply a public protest, or acts of terrorism. But since September 11th, that debate has escalated with increased efforts to label those involved in such attacks as terrorists. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Todd Melby has this report:
On a cold, January night in St. Paul, Minnesota, one or more members of the Earth Liberation Front set fire to a construction trailer parked on the University of Minnesota campus. Flames quickly spread to an adjacent building, causing $40,000 in damages.
(Construction site sounds)
But while the Crop Research Building burst into flames, the real target was the university’s proposed Microbial and Genomics building – a $20 million undertaking.
(Construction sounds go silent)
The attack wasn’t a surprise to Peggy Leppick. She’s a state representative, who chairs the Higher Education Committee in the Minnesota House of Representatives.
“A lot of the research that goes on at the university is fairly obscure and people don’t know about it, but when you build a building that is essentially a monument to genomics and genetic engineering, it becomes a bulls-eye.”
That’s why university officials are asking the Legislature for nearly $4 million to beef up security. They’ve also ratcheted up the rhetoric. University of Minnesota president Mark Yudolf has no qualms about using the word “terrorist” to describe E.L.F. members who’ve attacked his campus more than once.
“People who blow up facilities and buildings and who may try to avoid risking human life, but almost inevitably something can go wrong: that is my definition of a terrorist, yes.”
But attaching labels to actions doesn’t come so easily for others. There’s a fine distinction for some between terrorist and protesters.
“The definition of terrorist is a very political definition.”
Katherine Sikkink is a political science professor at the University of Minnesota.
“In this country, we have words for it. It’s called ‘crime.’ We don’t have to jump to the term ‘terrorism.’ When people destroy property it’s called ‘crime.’ We have police forces that are here to deal with crime and I think they should do it.”
Not surprisingly, Leslie James Pickering, a spokesman with the E.L.F. press office in Portland, Oregon, agrees with Sikkink’s characterization.
“If they were terrorists they would be engaging in violent terrorist actions. What they do is sabotage property. They’ve never harmed anybody. They never will harm anybody because it is against their code.”
That code, Pickering says, ensures that human life will be protected. When E.L.F. activists set fire to a building, they say it’s searched before flames engulf the facility.
“They are vandals. They are arsonists. They are engaging in illegal activity, there’s no question about that, but there is a difference between sabotage and terrorism.”
But that distinction may be lost in the rush to deal with terrorism, both foreign and domestic. The government appears on the verge of adding environmental groups such as E.L.F to its “War on Terrorism.”
A top F.B.I. official has called E.L.F. “the most active eco-terrorist” group in the United States. A Congressional Committee recently subpoenaed Leslie James Pickering’s predecessor in the E.L.F press office to testify. When committee members weren’t satisfied with his answers, they threatened him with contempt of Congress.
And now U.S. Congressman Gil Gutknecht, a Minnesota Republican, is calling for the death penalty if politically-motivated arsons or other actions result in a fatality. Gutknecht also wants the federal government to establish an “eco-terrorism” clearinghouse so law enforcement officials can do a better job of tracking environmental activists involved in illegal activity.
These proposals have drawn the ire of Chuck Samuelson, the executive director of the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union.
“September 11 has been a boon for people who are interested in making laws more strict, regulating society and limiting freedom.”
Samuelson says Gutknecht’s death penalty proposal won’t stop politically-motivated murders. And he’s also opposed to a federal clearinghouse that tracks E.L.F. members, saying it’s likely to be secret.
“The question that always comes up is about the privacy rights of people, how that information gets put in, who gets to change that information and who gets to use that information. If it’s secret and is not available to the public, so that you as a reporter couldn’t go see it or do an investigative piece on how they’re doing it, it’s got to scare you.”
Although Samuelson is quick to criticize the government’s proposed crackdown on E.L.F., he’s no defender of the group. He scoffs at the E.L.F. code, saying no matter their ‘no-harm-to-human-life’ intent, it’s only a matter of time before someone is killed.
Professor Sikkink also questions the group’s tactics. While some protest movements have historically engaged in property damage to score political points, she says it comes with a high price tag.
“So these tactics, you know, of destruction of government property are not unheard of, they’ve been around for a long time, but I do think they really run the risk of alienating the people you want to convince.”
Despite the increased pressure on E.L.F to halt the violence, Leslie James Pickering, the group’s spokesman, says he doesn’t expect its members to change its ways anytime soon. For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Todd Melby in Minneapolis.