Beamhenge Shield Animation: Illustrating the vulnerability of nuclear reactors to terrorism and the importance of a protective shield against air attack

For further information, see Bridge the Gap’s petition for Rulemaking to NRC to upgrade reactor security. Also see Bridge the Gap’s article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists May/June 2003.

After the tragedy of 9/11, America’s nuclear reactors remain vulnerable to terrorism. According to TIME Magazine, even after 9/11, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission still only requires protection from a handful of ground attackers, and NO protection from attacks by planes.

An attack on a nuclear reactor could release enough radioactivity to kill tens of thousands of people while contaminating an area the size of Pennsylvania.

If we are to have nuclear power plants in this country — and there are strong reasons to question the wisdom of relying on this dangerous source of energy — then at least we should protect them from attack.

Regulations should at the least require: protection against 9/11-size terrorist groups, and construction of “Beamhenge” shields, made of steel I-beams and cabling, to be placed around nuclear power plants to defend them from aerial attacks. An incoming plane, whether by design or accident, would hit the shield, not the reactor or nuclear fuel storage pools.

Concerned and conscientious citizens must tell the NRC must upgrade the fundamental protection we need against nuclear terrorism, NOW, before it’s too late.

Note: The Beamhenge animation is not to scale and not intended to constitute architectural or engineering drawings but rather to illustrate the basic concept. In real world application, there would likely be anchoring cables extending out at angles from the I-beams and anchored outside the structure; steel or kevlar netting in addition to the cables, which would help protect against such additional weapons as shoulder-mounted missiles and rocket-propelled grenades; the cables, which provide much of the penetration barrier, would be thicker than suggested in the animation; there may be cross-beams across the top of the structure to provide added protection in case a plane came in at a steep angle from above; and there would be flame-resistant sheeting to deter fuel moving beyond the shield. Additionally, for many reactors, with protection from hills or other features on one or more side, there may not be a need for Beamhenge shields on all sides of the facility. In an attack by a plane, it is possible that some fragments of the plane might penetrate beyond the shield; but even if so, they would have lost much of their energy, significantly reducing any potential damage they might be able to inflict on reactor structures inside the Beamhenge shield.