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.
Some see national struggles with the availability of the flu vaccine as a measure of our readiness for an act of bioterrorism. (Photo by Pamela Roth, courtesy of creatingonline.com)
A new study finds the nation is still not prepared for a biological terrorist attack… mainly because it could take us years to respond to it. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Jenny Lawton has this report:
A new study finds the nation is still not prepared for a biological terrorist attack –
mainly because it could take us years to respond to it. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s
Jenny Lawton reports:
The study found that viruses specially manufactured by terrorists – or even a rare, natural
virus – could be devastating to the country. That’s because as it stands now, it takes
nearly a decade to develop vaccines against them. Mark Lister is one of the authors of the
report, published by the Sarnoff Corporation and the Center for Biosecurity of the University
of Pittsburgh Medical Center. He says the recent scramble over the shortage of flu vaccines
just proves the point…
“If we are fairly ill-prepared for an annual flu vaccination process, how prepared are we
going to be if a bioterrorist event occurs on a large scale?”
Lister says the government needs to coordinate its efforts more closely with drug and
biotech companies. That, he says, could help new drugs of all kinds hit the market faster.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Jenny Lawton.
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.
Mock evidence of radiological material to make a dirty bomb gives trainees an idea of the kind of materials they might find in a terrorist operation. (Photo by Lester Graham)
A lab mocked up to resemble a terrorist operation making sarin nerve agent. (Photo by Lester Graham)
Environmental Protection Agency response vehicles include equipment to detect all sorts of material that might be released by terrorists. (Photo by Lester Graham)
Since 9/11, emergency responders have been practicing for new kinds of emergencies. In addition to fires and hazardous materials spills, emergency personnel have been training to deal with terrorist attacks. Recently, the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham was allowed behind the scenes in a terrorism attack training exercise:
Since 9/11, emergency responders have been practicing for new kinds of emergencies. In
addition to fires and hazardous materials spills, emergency personnel have been training
to deal with terrorist attacks. Recently, the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester
Graham was allowed behind the scenes in a terrorism attack training exercise:
These two men are the victims of some kind of biological toxin. They were investigating
an abandoned rental truck and now they’re writhing on the ground after a package
spewed some kind of liquid.
(chatter between mock victims) “You alright, man?” “What was that?” “I don’t know
what that was. It hurts.”
These guys are acting. They’re part of a huge training exercise put on by the
Environmental Protection Agency. Dozens of firefighters, emergency medical personnel,
EPA investigators, the FBI and people in t-shirts identifying themselves with acronyms
for agencies most of us have never heard of. They’re all working through a couple of
scenarios. So far today, they’ve discovered radioactive material to make dirty bombs and
some kind of lab set up to make a chemical like sarin nerve gas… and then there’s the
rental truck which is loaded with nasty chemicals.
Mark Durno is the U.S. EPA’s On-Scene Coordinator…
“We have some very distinct objectives with this exercise. One is to practice responding
to unusual situations that might involve weapons of mass destruction. In this particular
exercise, we’re practicing chemical agent and radiological agent response.”
There are lots of new things to learn. Coordination between agencies… and new
techniques. In this exercise, Detroit city departments are learning to work with federal
agencies. Melvin Green is with the Fire Department’s Emergency Medical Services. He
says this exercise is good. He’d rather see his medical technicians make mistakes here
than during a real emergency… where his worst fears might be realized.
“I would have to say that, you know, them become casualties, that’s probably my biggest
fear. This is why we want to educate them on—and this is why the exercise is so
important. We want to educate them on the possibilities. Keeping our people safe
That’s because if the emergency medical personnel are hurt… fewer people will be
The idea of a terrorist attack with radiological or biological agents is the kind of
nightmarish scenario that no one really wants to think about… but it’s something
emergency responders HAVE to think about.
During this day-long exercise… these trainees are upbeat, they’re confident in their
response. They feel they’ve come a long way in the nearly three years since 9/11.
But other emergency service experts are not quite as upbeat. Just 40 miles from this
training exercise… at the University of Michigan Hospital’s Department of Emergency
Medicine, Administrator Peter Forster says there are weaknesses in preparedness for
“We’ve made a lot of progress from where we were, but we’ve got a long ways to go.”
Forster says when victims start showing up at the hospital emergency rooms…. there will
“Most emergency preparedness activities have been geared toward local events with
relatively small numbers of victims. When we start talking about hundreds of people or
thousands of people injured or hurt, or exposed to some toxic or contagious substance,
then I think the health system would have a significantly difficult time expanding to meet
that requirement, regardless of how much, uh, how well we’re trained or how prepared
we are. We don’t really have the capacity on the health care side to manage a significant
influx of patients.”
Forster says plans to set up emergency medical facilities in auditoriums, school gyms,
and maybe even hotel rooms need to be completed… arrangements made… and supplies
(sound up of training exercise, generators, etc.)
Meanwhile, back in Detroit… investigators are putting on bulky chemical protection
suits—the ones that look like big space suits…blue, yellow, olive, with teal-colored
gloves and orange boots… you’d think of circus colors if the subject matter weren’t so
serious. After examining the mock lab, spending about an hour in the sweltering suits,
they come out for decontamination before their air tanks run out. The local agencies help
with decontamination… spraying and scrubbing the suits down.
(sound: beeping, scrubbing)
The training site has all the sights and sounds of a real emergency. Lots of emergency
vehicles… the noise of generators and the smell of diesel. But it’s fairly relaxed. There’s
none of the tension, none of the urgency of a real emergency.
The U.S. EPA’s On-Scene Coordinator, Mark Durno, says there are some things you
can’t bring to a drill…
“You can never simulate the adrenaline and the potential panic that’s associated with a
real event, especially when you hear the words ‘chemical’ and ‘radiological’ agent.
However, we can practice those little tools that we’re going to need to be absolutely
proficient at to ensure that when the panic hits, we’re ready to roll without any
The days’ training has turned up a few glitches. Communication between agencies is
still a problem. Emergency radio frequencies need to be sorted out and coordinated. And
there are still some major gaps in preparedness that are not part of this training… such as
the emergency room capacity problem. But one of the bigger issues is money. Federal
money has been promised to local governments… but it’s been very slow in coming.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.
State and local officials say not all cities are prepared to respond to a bioterrorist attack. A recent federal report indicates more coordination is needed. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
State and local officials say not all cities are prepared to respond to a bioterrorist attack. A recent
federal report indicates more coordination is needed. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s
Lester Graham reports:
Federal agencies need to set benchmarks that define what is adequate protection from
bioterrorism and need to develop a way for cities and states to evaluate and share useful solutions.
Those are recommendations from the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of
Congress. The GAO found that state and local officials reported deficiencies in the number of
people needed, the coordination needed and the labs needed to address such things as
bioterrorism attacks or even new infectious diseases that can spread rapidly such as the West Nile
Virus or SARS. The GAO says the Department of Health and Human Services needs to work
with the Department of Homeland Security to get guidelines to state and local officials so that
they know what’s needed to protect the health of their residents.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.
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 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.
Canadian environmentalists are concerned that nuclear power plants located on the Great Lakes are vulnerable to a potential terrorist attack. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Karen Kelly has the story:
Before the terrorist attacks on the U.S., environmental groups were often critical of the Bush Administration’s policies. But since September 11th, most of the environmental organizations have erased all traces of criticism of the White House. Some politicians, though, see opportunities to push through energy policies in the name of national security – policies that could damage the environment. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
Before the terrorist attacks on the U.S., environmental groups were often critical of the Bush Administration’s policies. But, since September 11th, most of the environmental organizations have erased all traces of criticism of the White House. Some politicians, though, see opportunities to push through energy policies in the name of national security, policies that could damage the environment. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports.
If you’d visited the Sierra Club Internet web site before September eleventh, or that of the Natural Resources Defense Council, or any of a dozen or more major environmental groups’ sites, you likely would have seen sometimes harsh criticism of the Bush Administration’s energy policies, environmental policies, and a host of other complaints the groups had against the White House. Some environmental groups were also running TV ads attacking the Bush Administration’s policies. But, after the terrorist attacks, the ads were pulled and many of the environmental groups removed those criticisms from their web sites in the name of national unity.
Joe Davis is editor of a tip sheet compiled for environmental journalists. He’s watched as most environmental groups have stifled their criticism since the attacks.
“I think everybody’s waiting just to see, you know, what’s going to happen in the next few days and weeks. And, of course, environmental groups are, for the most part, as patriotic as everybody else and people do understand that national unity is important.”
Some journalists have questioned whether the environmental groups are backing down from their positions or merely lying low for a little while. The environmental groups aren’t saying much. But behind the scenes, there’s concern that environmental protection will get trampled in the name of national security.
Meanwhile, some politicians have seen opportunities in the wake of the tragedy. Immediately after the attacks, the Alaska congressional delegation began pushing harder for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The members said such drilling would reduce America’s dependence on oil from the Middle East. They were admonished, though, for being opportunists in the wake of tragedy. The Alaska politicians quickly backed off and took the fight for drilling behind the scenes.
Outside of Washington, it’s a different story. Some state politicians have become even more vocal in their support of oil and gas exploration. Just before the terrorist attacks, Michigan’s Natural Resources Commission lifted a moratorium on drilling for oil and natural gas under the Great Lakes. The Michigan Legislature could still step in to block any such drilling. But some of the lawmakers say because of the terrorist attacks, Michigan should drill. Dale Shugars is a Republican State Senator who supports drilling under the lakes.
“With the sustained war that we’re going to be going into, I think it’s very important from a national security point of view that the country be more independent for oil and gas.”
Environmentalists in Michigan are appalled that Senator Shugars and some of their colleagues are taking that tact. James Clift is the policy director for the Michigan Environmental Council. He says the reserves under the lakes are so miniscule they’ll have next to no effect on the nation’s energy security and using the terrorist attacks to justify drilling under the Great Lakes is wrong.
“We do not believe that the unfortunate incident of the terrorist attack has changed anything as far as energy policy in the United States. The same conditions that applied before apply afterwards. And, even more so, I believe, is the importance for energy conservation. The United States only has four percent of the world’s reserves of oil and gas. Using those reserves up faster isn’t going to make the United States any more secure.”
But Senator Shugars thinks it is naïve to believe using less fuel will be enough. He says now that we’re at war with terrorists, it’s important to drill for fuel for the military and needs at home.
“It’s a fact that we’re going to be having a war against terrorism for a long time and I think that if one is going to look at a national energy policy, it has to include increasing supply and definitely – definitely has to be environmentally sensitive.”
Senator Shugars and others using the terrorist attacks to justify the energy and environmental policies that they want might be walking a tight rope. History shows Americans tend to frown on opportunism during times of national crisis. Environmental journalist Joe Davis says if politicians and energy industry leaders do use that approach, it could backfire. Especially since environmental groups are being quiet for the sake of a united patriotic front.
“Any party who tries to make short-term advantage out of a national crisis like this, I think, is very quickly going to be perceived as being exactly what it is: opportunistic. I don’t think the environmentalists will lay low forever and I don’t think they’re alone in questioning these things.”
But for now, most of the environmentalists are not saying much – at least publicly – about their opposition to the government’s energy and environmental policies. At least not until the nation begins to get past the shock of the terrorist attacks on the U.S.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.