Nuclear Plant War Games Highlight Security Risks
Imagine you’re an engineer at a nuclear power plant that contains some of the most dangerous materials known to man. Suddenly, commandos slip past security guards, killing some of your colleagues and blowing up key facilities, potentially leaking deadly radioactive substances into the atmosphere and putting surrounding communities at risk of contamination. That’s exactly what has taken place at 24 of the United States’ 104 commercially active nuclear power plants. The only thing is, none of it was real.
In an effort by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to test security at the country’s nuclear power plants, mock raids are conducted yearly. Like something out of the movies, trained security personnel mimic real-life security breeches, targeting both plant personnel and key facility buildings for termination.
Using a high-tech military-grade laser weapon system known as MILES (Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System), the mock commandos simulate gunfire. The assaults are pre-announced so there is no confusion as to whether or not a “real” attack is taking place. They are also carried out on three consecutive nights, so each shift of the plants’ security forces have an opportunity to partake in the simulation.
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In last year’s mock assaults, commandos were able to successfully damage or destroy critical targets at two of the 24 plants attacked according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Inspectors addressed the security issues at the plants and resolved the shortcomings, but the NRC refuses to release information identifying which plants failed the test, citing concerns that they may be targeted if identities were revealed.
The NRC claims that roughly one-quarter of U.S. nuclear plants undergo such “war game” style assaults each year, with between two and four being breeched by mock commandos on average. NRC spokeswoman Holly Harrington says, "We don't characterize (the results) as good or bad because the plants must adhere to our security regulations, period. If there are these failures, which from time to time occur, they are fixed and the plants are told they have to meet these requirements."
This year the NRC will conduct 25 security drills, three of which will address the corrective actions of plants that failed in the past. According to Harrington, following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the frequency and strenuousness of the drills became more intense. “The realism went up,” she says.
Major move forward for UK’s nascent marine energy sector
Although the industry is small and the technologies are limited, marine-based energy systems look to be taking off as “the world’s most powerful tidal turbine” begins grid-connected power generation at the European Marine Energy Centre.
At around 74 metres long, the turbine single-handedly holds the potential to supply the annual electricity demand to approximately 2,000 homes within the UK and offset 2,200 tonnes of CO2 per year.
Orbital Marine Power, a privately held Scottish-based company, announced the turbine is set to operate for around 15 years in the waters surrounding Orkney, Scotland, where the 2-megawatt O2 turbine weighing around 680 metric tons will be linked to a local on-land electricity network via a subsea cable.
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Described as a “major milestone for O2” by CEO of Orbital Marine Power Andrew Scott, the turbine will also supply additional power to generate ‘green hydrogen’ through the use of a land-based electrolyser in the hopes it will demonstrate the “decarbonisation of wider energy requirements.”
“Our vision is that this project is the trigger to the harnessing of tidal stream resources around the world to play a role in tackling climate change whilst creating a new, low-carbon industrial sector,” says Scott in a statement.
The Scottish Government has awarded £3.4 million through the Saltire Tidal Energy Challenge Fund to support the project’s construction, while public lenders also contributed to the financial requirements of the tidal turbine through the ethical investment platform Abundance Investment.
“The deployment of Orbital Marine Power’s O2, the world’s most powerful tidal turbine, is a proud moment for Scotland and a significant milestone in our journey to net zero,” says Michael Matheson, the Cabinet Secretary for Net-Zero, Energy and Transport for the Scottish Government.
“With our abundant natural resources, expertise and ambition, Scotland is ideally placed to harness the enormous global market for marine energy whilst helping deliver a net-zero economy.
“That’s why the Scottish Government has consistently supported the marine energy sector for over 10 years.”
However, Orbital Marine CEO Scott believes there’s potential to commercialise the technology being used in the project with the prospect of working towards more efficient and advanced marine energy projects in the future.
“We believe pioneering our vision in the UK can deliver on a broad spectrum of political initiatives across net-zero, levelling up and building back better at the same time as demonstrating global leadership in the area of low carbon innovation that is essential to creating a more sustainable future for the generations to come.”
The UK’s growing marine energy endeavours
This latest tidal turbine project isn’t a first for marine energy in the UK. The Port of London Authority permitted the River Thames to become a temporary home for trials into tidal energy technology and, more recently, a research project spanning the course of a year is set to focus on the potential tidal, wave, and floating wind technology holds for the future efficiency of renewable energy. The research is due to take place off of the Southwest coast of England on the Isles of Scilly