San Onofre Nuclear generating Station (courtesy wikipedia.org)

“Shortly after the horrors of 9/11, a curious package landed on Dave Lochbaum’s desk,” ocregister.com reports. “It was flat but heavy. Inside the bubble pack was a battered steel plate, blasted with dents and holes from semiautomatic weapons fire. Each pockmark and perforation was carefully labeled – by hand, in permanent ink – with the type of ammunition used to produce it. Security forces at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station and nuclear plants nationwide had increased their firepower to take on a more formidable terrorist threat. The steel plate, sent by a San Onofre security manager, graphically illustrated . .

what Lochbaum, a nuclear engineer, considered a potentially devastating, increased risk: More powerful ammunition meant to protect nuclear reactors was capable of piercing control panels and critical piping.”

Sigh. Let’s think about this . . .

First, which way are the nuclear power plant security staff shooting? Second, if they’re shooting “high-powered ammunition” — presumably (but never stated in the article) 5.56 AR-15s — what are the people they are shooting at firing? I’m thinking . . . wait for it  . . . AR-15s. With high-powered ammo!

Actually, if we’re talking about attacking a nuclear power plant, let’s face it, we’re talking bombs. (Getting control of a functioning nuclear power plant with armed attackers would be next to impossible.) Best way to do the job — and this isn’t a secret —  is a truck, make that two, loaded with explosives. And what’s the best rifle to shoot the driver(s) of said vehicles? I’m thinking an AR-15.

Strike that. I reckon an AK-74 loaded with 5.45 improved Warsaw penetrator rounds would be ideal. Yes, a “high-powered” round fully capable of penetrating pipes and [plastic] panels. If we’re talking in-house rifles, an AR-15 with frangible ammo might be a sensible choice.

Hang on, compared to what? For some strange reason, an entire article based on “dangerous” calibers never mentions calibers. But it sure does half present some half*ssed arguments.

Lochbaum, a nuclear engineer with the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the introduction of “bigger and badder weapons” at nuclear plants recalls the unanticipated consequences of ocean-liner safety improvements after the Titanic disaster in 1912.

In 1915, the Great Lakes passenger steamer SS Eastland, which had been prone to listing, was retrofitted with a complete set of lifeboats and crank systems to lower them. The steamer was not designed to hold the extra weight. When passengers congregated on the top deck while the Eastland was tied to a dock in the Chicago River, it rolled over, killing 844 people.

“Are the bigger and badder weaponry less Titanic or more Eastland?” Lochbaum asked.

What the hell does that have to do with anything? Here’s an idea! Why not have the guards on the perimeter of nuclear power plants armed with those swanky new 50 BMG bullpup rifles to shoot approaching bomb trucks? There’s your high-powered weaponry.

Thankfully, the article includes quotes from nuclear power plant security officials who say pretty much what I’ve said above: we got this. Training, minimized weapons handling, regular qualifications — all the precautions you’d expect for staff carrying guns loaded with “high powered” ammunition.

The article doesn’t point out that the people making the claims against unspecified “high-powered ammunition” have an axe to grind. They do.

“Over the decades of dealing with the NRC, the pattern has never changed,” he said. “I’ve never seen them ahead of the risk rather than behind it. The NRC sees its job as keeping the burden low on the nuclear industry. This is an exceedingly dangerous mismatch between a captured regulatory agency and an adversary that is nimble, lethal and has absolutely no compunction.”

Anti-nuclear activist Roger Johnson, a retired psychology professor in San Clemente, said he believes cost is a major consideration in plant security programs.

The NRC’s approach has been to guard against a few armed intruders, like a bank holdup, he said. “They will say with a straight face that they are secure. What they mean is that they have 100 percent of the security that is required – which is very little.”

Well, it can always be better. Or worse, if the Union of Concerned Scientists has its way. Oh, and the plant named? It’s been decommissioned. Home to radioactive material, but still . . .

76 Responses to “High-Powered” Ammo At Nuclear Power Plants. Not the Dumbest Firearms-Related Article Ever. But One of Them

      • The containment dome will withstand the largest truck bomb as well. Perhaps if the attackers made a massive shaped charge to propel steel plates they could penetrate the dome.

        • A nuclear truck bomb would be quite small. If it is sophisticated enough you could put it in a Smart Car.

      • Great info/Link! After reading the article, the prospect of defending against aircraft impact came to mind. Thanks.

      • “And in all seriousness: US nuclear plants are designed to withstand a crash from a commercial jetliner:”

        The World Trade Center was designed to survive a hit from the largest airliner of its day, a 707 or a 727.

        And each tower survived the hit from a substantially larger 757 airliner.

        They neglected to consider what 60,000 pounds of burning fuel would do to the temper of the structural steel, however…

        • They didn’t because burning jet fuel would be irrelevant to a steel structure. You can’t melt steel with jet fuel, you’d need thermite or something similar.

        • B: since steel’s structural strength depends on its temperature, an all-steel structure isn’t immune to burning fuel, depending on the specifics of the structure and where the heat is applied.

        • “They didn’t because burning jet fuel would be irrelevant to a steel structure. You can’t melt steel with jet fuel, you’d need thermite or something similar.”

          *WRONG*, B.

          The steel *softened*, it did NOT ‘melt’.

          The burning fuel heated the steel trusses that supported the one-foot thick concrete flooring.

          (Concrete is very *heavy*, B.)

          The heated steel lost its strength, as an example of the effect, if you keep a chocolate bar in your pocket, it will soften.

          The softened steel girders tore free from the vertical exterior structure.

          The terrific weight of the thick concrete floor crashing down on the floor below it caused it to fail, floor-by-floor in a progressive collapse.

          How is it possible that someone could actually believe that laughable ‘thermite’ theory?

          Thermite is fun to play with, BTW. My immediate supervisor at one of the labs I worked at was a pyromaniac.

          It made working third shift *fun*…

        • Jesse The Body said it was thermite paint made by HARP and installed by aliens from Area 51, so it must be true.

          /sarc off

        • B: It was the contents of the chemtrail tanks that melted the steel beams and girders. I don’t know why nobody talks about that.

      • And in all seriousness: US nuclear plants are designed to withstand a crash from a commercial jetliner:

        From the outside, Chip. That has nothing to do with the bullet-resistance of individual internal components.

    • Oy. Text amended. It is Friday.

      [For those you wondering, the headline originally said “Nuclear Power Pants.” Which are, let’s face it, the wrong trousers.]

        • Question of the Day!

          I guess it depend on a range of factors: how many penguins, what they’re shooting, etc. But given their lack of opposable thumbs, I’m thinking millions of ’em with bomb vests.

  1. These guys are pants on head retarded. Do we need to show them what an M1 Garand loaded with WWII era .30-06 does to steel plate?

  2. That’s interesting, if you read the linked article in the linked article its not just about the ammo, but about the NRC overriding state firearms laws regarding

    “Gears ground for years, and on Wednesday, the NRC used its new powers, granting “pre-emption authority” to San Onofre and Diablo Canyon in California, and to the Indian Point, James A. FitzPatrick, Nine Mile Point and R.E. Ginna nuclear power plants in New York.

    It allows these plants’ security forces to possess and use weapons despite local, state or federal laws and regulations restricting their use.”

    Thus, it’s the feds just issuing a directive and saying ‘we will do whatever we want to’, oh and ‘you jerks can just shut up and continue paying for it’. I may have added that last bit.

    Why do we have states anymore, it must really annoy the feds, why don’t we just get rid of them?

    • I was told by a very wise LGS owner that if you’re worried about being put on a list…you’re already on it.

      Right after that I sent an email to “Aunt” Janet Napolitano confessing that I was a Constitutionalist. Figured that would guarantee my spot on the list, and now I don’t have to worry anymore.

  3. I just read the full article, and as far as I could tell the point is “Some guy tangentially related to nuclear security has unsubstantiated concerns about over penetration by potential defenders despite appropriate measures already in place to mitigate hazard.” It must be a slow news day in the O.C.

  4. a 50 BMG from a mile away would shut down the plant. No need to melt down. Just a weekly dose of steel and copper. We are so vulnerable at every turn that the only thing that will save us is blissful ignorance and statistics.

  5. So they are worried about damaging unused equipment? Or am I understanding this wrong?

    If I am understanding you right then I am aghast at the stupid on display here.

  6. Gee, I get it. They would rather the terrorist be able to subdue the security force guarding the plant so that the terrorist can do anything they want with it, i.e., blow it up, disable safety equipment, etc., rather than risk a 1 in a million accident. It is almost as bad as putting a Marine barracks in a war zone and then lock of the ammunition to supposedly prevent accidents.

    • I think I went to high school with someone who died because of thinking like that.

      (Assuming you’re thinking of the Beirut bombing.)

  7. Nuclear power plant security is an interesting beast. At least one nuclear power plant designed and constructed in the late 1960s was designed to withstand the direct impact of a fully loaded 747 Jumbo Jet crash without compromising the reactor core. Needless to say, small arms fire is not a concern.

    I have no idea how well they hardened the surrounding infrastructure. My hunch is that it is not vulnerable to small arms fire either.

    The simple answer is layered security. Have two concentric outer secured perimeters that are difficult to penetrate. And the building must have a secured entrance. Thus any attackers would have to traverse two concentric security rings and then penetrate the building itself. The time involved for such an assault would enable ample time for reinforcement to thwart such an attack. The good news: such a system is neither difficult nor expensive to implement … and is as secure as the personnel who man the site.

    Personally, I think this is “much ado about nothing”.

    • Pretty much how they’re set up. I’ve been to a couplein my day, and have a buddy who has worked at a few. They certainly don’t fuck around, they have stuff like a gate with a combination lock and the combination’s on a sign beside the gate. It’s not meant to stop you at all, just slow you down long enough for someone to shoot you.

  8. You guys are completely missing the point of the article, too many heavy weapons will make the plant tip over.

  9. DOE sets the guidelines for nuke plant security. Because they have federal carve outs, the contractors protecting these facilities have not just M4s, but also crew served weapons (up to and including .50) and are even rumored to have Stingers.

    This is nothing new. This was nothing new pre-9/11.

    So why is it now an issue?

    • The NRC authorized nuke plant private security contractors to utilize automatic weapons, regardless of state & local laws regulating armed security, in 2005.

      I would guess each plant has at least a few armed guards sporting giggle-switch-friendly M4s.

      Stingers are a whole other level of firepower though. Yes, there’s M4s, and probably some guys with Barretts even, but leaving SAMs in the hands of guns-for-hire is taking a major risk…

        • With regards to The White House, I think it’s pretty much confirmed they have Stingers there.

        • Whether they do or not, they won’t stop an airliner, just make the pilot dead a few seconds early. Inertia is a thing.

    • At the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, they definitely have Barrets (they were selling surplus within the past couple years). They all carry M4s (and sidearms) while on patrol. I think their desert patrol vehicles (as opposed to the ones they drive out to the barricades to man the checkpoints or for patrolling the regular roads) have Ma Dueces on them. They may also have some sort of LMGs and/or SAWs in the patrol vehicles, but more likely they keep that stuff in the armory. I don’t think they have any sort of rockets, either surface to air or surface to surface. I do know that they take encroachment extremely seriously.

      By the way, they are not private security at all; they are a Federal police force. They also pull you over for speeding if you’re inside the barrier.

      As for this guy’s complaints about a shut down plant; there is no point, everything of any importance is inside the containment and therefore well protected. For active nuclear plants, however, he has something of a point: the control area is not within the containment shell, generally, often it is in what amounts to, essentially, an office building. None that I have heard of are hardened against any sort of attack, beyond external security (e.g. fences, security personnel, and the typical concrete barrier/posts to prevent vehicles form getting close). Small arms could penetrate most of these and potentially cause issues with the electronics/mechanisms within. But that seems like a really unlikely scenario and there are fail safes (on the fail safes on the tertiary backups of the secondary backups of the primary fail safes), so even if there were an event where a control panel was disabled, there is little chance of any really serious consequences.

  10. “Much ado about nothing” is overstating the concerns of a granola munching antinuke kook.

    At a nuke where I worked we once conducted a test with the reactor at 100% full power. All offsite power was shut off, while simultaneously inhibiting standby power, and emergency generators. Even the backup emergency batteries were disconnected. There was zero power to any controls or active safety systems. The control room was black with the exception of battery powered egress lighting and battery powered instrumentation we set up to monitor the goings on. Reactor operators didn’t touch anything.

    Nothing bad happened. The sky didn’t fall. No pants were pooped.

    The reactor shut down by itself and the core was never in danger of overheating or over pressure. Designed-in natural circulation did the trick without any coolant pumps running, or any operators taking action to move valves, switch switches, etc.

    Good design by good engineers results in good safety performance.

    After 35 years as a Nuclear Control Systems Engineer, I didn’t need to be convinced that working at a Nuke is probably the safest work environment in the USA.

    • AND they are now undergoing FUKISHIM PROJECT. Adding 4th level backups. I sold a bunch of Streamlight portable scenelights (extra jumbo pole LED flashlights) for redundant battery op emergency lighting. Missed out of the purchase of trailer mounted diesel pumps to draft directly from river and pump thru fire hose for redundant cooling. Stupid gov’t BS.

  11. Best way to attack a Nuclear Power Plant, is to get the locals whipped up about the dangers of radiation as it is compounded by the dangers of POS people out there like terrorists including ISIS (NOT ISIL OR DAESH YOU POS OBAMA ADMIN AND LIBERAL (D)) and Greepeace (of sh_t) and the EPA-holes.

    Get them with their moo moos and their folding chairs and their poster board signs and their candles to hold a daily/nightly vigil to protest the thing until it gets coverted to natural gas fired turbine plan.

    NEXT BEST WAY to attack a nuclear power plant is to attack its cooling system, and that involves a little bit of diving in whatever body of water it is positioned next to, and the DOE snipers [best in the world from what I’ve heard] can shoot whatever caliber they want that doesn’t start with “spear gun” and they will be ineffective.

  12. So ill comment very briefly. I have worked at San O, not in security but i know a lot who have, and it is very obvious the security measures in place, and I know there were even more we didn’t know about. I have worked from the very outskirts of the 1000 acres they own to the inner most parts of the containment. I currently work at another Commercial Nuke similar to San O.

    I cant comment on security formations etc, or how they train (so dont ask), all of this is considered top secret even if you can find out (which i dont know) you would go to jail revealing it; however the likelyhood of a terrorist attack with enough firepower to overpower a stations security is…. low. So low i would expect a cell to need greater than 50-100 people, very well trained, with Heavy weapons. I mean rockets, 50 cals, grenades, etc.

    To amass the type of weaponry and mount an assualt quick enough to cause nuclear meltdown, etc would be incredible if our (albeit dumb) government didn’t see it coming. Also, im pretty sure all of the plants have direct lines to local military installations and all the local law enforcement (again i dont know). Within 30 minutes max, 100’s of LE and Military would be on site.

    Stories like these and the “what if” about terrorists getting spent fuel are laughable. At least from my view on the inside of the perimeters. Grated military sites can be over run, and have in the long run of time. But to my knowledge those have been overun outside of the continental US (revolutionary, Civil, 1812 aside).

    • Terrorists attacking the electric power grid don’t need to attack the power plant, there are many *thousands* of miles of high-tension power lines that are easily destroyed with nothing more than a standard hunting rifle with a scope.

      A coordinated attack on the power lines feeding a major city will turn out the lights for weeks.

      AP ammunition fired into the step-down transformers would be far worse since those transformers are for the most part custom wound, the lag time for replacement would be in the months for them.

      Visualize NYC with no power in the heat of summer or the dead of winter for weeks if not months.

      If you try to evacuate them, where the hell are you going to house *millions* of people?

      • ^^^ Ding,ding,ding.^^^

        High voltage power lines and transformers are very vulnerable.
        I don’t think someone would even need AP ammo.

      • A long long long time ago there was a book, it involved much of what you’re talking about. Only it didn’t involve rifles. Wires can be restrung easily. Towers….not so much. Lots of towers….Lots and lots of towers all over the place all at the same time. I’d guess it’d be a bit disruptive.

  13. Oh and BTW commercial Nukes dont hire DOE security, it is in house… dont know where that one came from. Perhaps the Government owned facilities (Yukka for example if it ever got started, or research reactors for example). The Navy Nukes are all protected by Marines, so yea have fun with those jar head (no offense to those out there), they will eat you up.

    • I don’t know if that was directed at me or not, but I did say Contractors.

      Unless something changed, they come from either Wackenhut or G4S. But the DOE Contract Solicitation is readily available online (along with the SPO guidelines and firearm qualifications). Essentially, the contractors give the DOE money, the DOE then goes and buys the guns (thus, the gov’t still owns the fun stuff), and then ‘Allows’ the contractors to use them. Pretty much the same way State handles WPPS weapons.

      So yea, the nuke site hires security, but the DOE sets the overall requirements for the contractors.

  14. IF intel fails to tell us there’s an attack in time to prevent it, and IF the attackers get through the perimeter, and IF the attackers defeat the physical security and (I’m guessing) rapid reaction team on site, and IF the attackers make it into the control room, and IF there is a shootout in the control room, and IF stray bullets hit critical equipment…

    …nothing should happen, because the plant should have been designed with redundancy or automatic safety features that kick in when critical equipment fails in normal operation (which is MUCH more likely to occur than the above nested IF statement).

  15. If you are having to defend a nuclear power plant from the inside….you have already lost the nuclear power plant.

  16. Very not true. I dont know your knowledge of a power plant, but a vast majority of equipment on site is not nuclear related. It is an electric plant first, just using a different source of heat.

  17. I worked for Westinghouse Nuclear Power up until a couple of years ago. The real hazard is the older plants. The newer ones, like the Westinghouse AP1000 use passive safety measures, so that if the SHTF, the plant uses plain old gravity to shut down. Power could be off, everyone dead, the plant damaged and it would still shut down safely. The cooling water is all stored above the core, with the valves in a “fail open” or “dead man” configuration.

    As for security, they keep that stuff pretty secret, even from employees. What little I saw, though, was pretty impressive. By comparison, it’s much, much better than any airport. But I guess that’s not saying much nowadays.

  18. It’s rare to find a journalist who’s well-versed enough both on firearms and on nuclear plant design that he can speak intelligently on such a subject.

    And we haven’t found one here.

  19. Although I cannot comment as an official for the NRC, I have that said San Onofre plate in my possession (given to me directly from Mr. Lochbaum). Trust me– it does nothing to prove a point, but rather to inflame the uneducated opinions and imaginations of activists with an agenda to push. I have done extensive testing with materials typically used in power plants (steels of various thicknesses and hardness, calibers of ammunition, bullet shapes, etc.), and I have the data, pictures and records to disprove much of what is implied. As is typical, there is so much misinformation and misdirection being put forth in these “articles”. I am not permitted to reply officially, but can say they are not worth the electrons they are printed on.

  20. Read “Union of Concerned Scientists” and use it for wiping purposes. See also as “Southern Poverty Law Center” any thing Ralph Nader ever said (and on an on and on watermelon pinkos).

    “Concerned” my ass.

  21. As someone who works in nuclear power, all the critical nuclear related piping for a PWR is kept at high pressure with pretty thick pipe walls (and made from VERY high quality steel). I can’t imagine 5.56 penetrating primary loop piping or the reactor pressure vessel. Also, David Lochbaum never has anything good to say about nuclear power (Union of Concerned Scientists is a pretty anti-nuclear group). The name is pretty easy to recognize, if you have seen ANY nuclear power related documentary (especially if it has an anti nuclear bias) he is always there saying something negative about nuclear plants. To me, he is the nuclear equivalent of Shannon Watts or Dan Gross, and I immediately discard anything he says accordingly.

  22. I like your www site guys but these advertisement redirects which then try to force me to down load virus laden apps is a bit much, please clean up your house

  23. FWIW, I use the “free” download version of AdBlock Plus. Never have a problem with ads or distractions on this site. Just what, not why.

  24. The “Union of Concerned Scientists” is basically a front group for Luddites and commies. They seek to use “science” to thwart any actual technological advances, and of course they push unilateral western nuclear disarmament.

  25. Wonder what type of ammunition would be sufficiently “low power” to satisfy the politically correct protocol and diminish the paranoia of an ignorant liberal elitist gun hating nuclear engineer? 38 S&W? 44 rimfire?

  26. I was told by a very wise LGS owner that if you’re worried about being put on a list…you’re already on it.

    Right after that I sent an email to “Aunt” Janet Napolitano confessing that I was a Constitutionalist. Figured that would guarantee my spot on the list, and now I don’t have to worry anymore.

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