Monday, December 27, 2004

Portsmouth Herald: Threat to nuke plant revealed

By Shir Haberman
shaberman@seacoastonline.com

PORTSMOUTH - Officials at both the state Bureau of Emergency Management and Seabrook Station say they are aware of intelligence information about an alleged Iranian plot to crash commercial airliners into the N.H. nuclear power plant. However, spokesmen for both organizations discounted those reports.
State Emergency Management spokesman Jim Van Dongen acknowledged that his boss, Bruce Cheney, the agency’s director, is aware of the issue, but he added that the agency has not received any information directly from the federal Department of Homeland Security.

"There is always that general possibility (of a terrorist attack on the Seabrook reactor)," said Van Dongen, "but we haven’t received any information that it’s going to happen tomorrow."

Al Griffith, spokesman for Seabrook Station, said he’s not sure why this issue is resurfacing now, nearly two years after he first responded to media inquiries about threats against nuclear power plants.

"This was part of the information that was shared between appropriate law enforcement agencies," said Griffith. "What happens is that whenever we get this type of information we make a determination in conjunction with law enforcement. In this case we felt the information did not warrant any further action on our part."

The New York Sun newspaper reported on Tuesday that U.S. Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa., beginning in February 2003, has held a series of secret meetings in Paris with a former high-ranking official in the government of the former shah of Iran. According to Weldon, his source has correctly predicted a number of internal developments in Iran, ranging from the current regime’s atomic weapons programs to its support for international terrorist groups, including al-Qaida, the newspaper reported in an article by Eli Lake.

Based on two informants inside the ruling mullahs’ inner circle, Weldon’s source, whom he code-named "Ali," relayed allegations to the Pennsylvania lawmaker that an Iranian-backed terrorist cell is seeking to hijack Canadian airliners and crash them into an American reactor. The target of the operation was only identified by Ali as "SEA," leading Weldon to believe it was the Seabrook reactor.

Ali reportedly told the congressman that the attack was first planned for between Nov. 23 and Dec. 3, 2003, but was postponed to take place after this year’s presidential election.

On Aug. 22, 2003, the Toronto Star reported the arrest of 19 people in Canada for immigration violations, who were also suspected of being connected with a terrorist conspiracy. According to the newspaper account, one of the men in the alleged terrorist cell was taking flight lessons and had flown an airplane directly over an Ontario nuclear power plant.

Griffith, the Seabrook Station spokesman, said that even if the information is correct - aside from the many security measures enacted around airports and nuclear power plants since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon - recent studies have shown that every one of the nation’s active nuclear power plants could withstand a direct attack using commercial jetliners.

"(The Electric Power Research Institute) conducted testing on nuclear containment structures and concluded they would be able to withstand a 9-11 type of attack," said the Seabrook Station spokesman. "The issue is a radiation release, and we are confident the integrity of our reactor could survive that kind of attack."

Griffith explained that the New Hampshire plant has three barriers to a radiological release. The first is its double-dome containment structure, which is unique even within the industry.

The reactor itself is made of solid steel and located underground, and the radioactive fuel pellets are contained in steel rods.

Griffin also cited the plant’s internal culture.

"We remain vigilant, prepared and safe," the nuclear plant spokesman said. "There is also now a level of involvement in information sharing with law enforcement that did not exist before 9-11."


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