Protecting Nuclear Energy

Obi Eboh
February 26, 2019

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2018


Fig. 1: Damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

In 2011, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was struck with a tsunami that ultimately shut down multiple sustained fission reactors and led to insufficient cooling. The insufficient cooling of the reactors led to 3 different nuclear meltdowns, hydrogen air explosions, and the release of radioactive material into the air. This disaster, seen in Fig. 1, was the most significant nuclear incident since the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986 and remains as a constant reminder of the vulnerability of nuclear power plants in the United States, but they aren't just in danger of falling victim to natural disasters.

Threat To Power Plants

Nuclear power plants are susceptible of being potential targets of terrorist attacks and sabotage. It is a frightening concept to think about as a successful attack on a nuclear power plant could mean devastating consequences for a particular region such as the killing, sickening, and long term environmental damage to a large area. Luckily there is some regulation to protect the plants from that kind of disaster. Protecting nuclear power plants is the job of the nuclear regulatory commission (NRC). The NRC regulates all nuclear power plants and each plant must abide by their set of rules. The NRC oversees reactor safety, security, and the managing of the disposal, storage, and recycling of spent fuel. [1] U.S. power plants are actually regarded as some of the most well-guarded plants in the world and have essentially become the standard in the world. [1] After 9/11 the NRC tightened up on security and required their to be armed and well trained security officers to be at the sites. [1] Additional security measures include physical barriers, intrusion detection, and surveillance systems. [1] The NRC also works closely with the FBI, Homeland Security, intelligence agencies, departments of Defense and Energy, and local law enforcement to ensure that it can respond quickly to any threats to its facilities.

Cyber Attacks on Plants

In the Summer of 2017, a nuclear power plant in Illinois was the target of a cyber attack by terrorists and it was not clear if the attack on the plant was connected to the global cyber attack that happened to several countries that same week. Any breach to a nuclear power plant would be extremely dangerous because the information that the hackers could get their hands on could include information about security assessments, emails and documents that involve development design plans and different passwords. [1] With the possibility of international spending on cybersecurity rising to roughly $100 billion by 2020, it seems that some of this money will be invested into protecting our nuclear power plants. [2] It seems for right now that the hackers only have access to the business side of the plants and cannot access their operations specifically, but even so the idea of these hackers getting this critical information is very scary and possibility in the near future.

Nuclear Energy Really A Necessity?

Tragically, 15,000 people were killed in the disaster of the Fukushima plant, but none of those deaths came from radiation. [3] Letting the idea of terrorists and accidents such as Chernobyl and Fukushima effect the way we think about nuclear energy would be detrimental. We must not forget all the benefits that nuclear energy provide us on a daily basis. Compared to other sources of energy nuclear power generation development is the most cost effective. Air pollution from different sources of power generation kills about 10,000 Americans each year, nuclear has none. [3] Also nuclear energy is also very closely related to American defense and geopolitical interests. Many Navy veterans work at civilian nuclear plants because they were trained to operate our nation's nuclear reactors. Without the capability to run our nuclear Navy, America's power projection would suffer. [3] The plants are convenient because the costs of the existing nuclear power plants are predictable and don't fluctuate much from year to year, which is useful because we have already paid for the large cost of constructing the existing plants. [3] With that being said we still need to find solutions and improve on how we dispose, protect, and take care of nuclear waste. And we cannot forget that there are still on going radiation incidents that take the lives of people each year. Nuclear energy is a scarce nonrenewable resource and using its energy is not fool-proof, for right now nuclear energy is the most optimal source of energy for us. [4]

© Obi Eboh. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] "Nuclear Security," U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, April 2014.

[2] L. A. Gordon, M. P. Loeb and L. Zhou, "Investing in Cybersecurity: Insights from the Gordon-Loeb Model," J. Inform. Secur. 7, 49 (2916).

[3] J. Carl and D. Fedor, Keeping the Lights on at America's Nuclear Power Plants (Hoover Institution Press, 2017).

[4] H. Hirsch and H. Nowotny, "Information and Opposition in Austrian Nuclear Energy Policy," Minerva 15, 316 (1977).