Nuclear Power and the Security Imperative


Energy is familiar. Early humans warmed themselves on cold nights by their wood fires. Residents of ancient Carthage built simple solar collectors, heating water for public baths. Nineteenth century American farmers pumped water for their fields with multiblade windmills. Early in this century, homeowners shoveled their own coal for heat and poured their own kerosene for light.

Even with the rise of electric utilities, the production of energy remained familiar to people. Fuels, coal and oil, could be, and were, touched by workers. Natural gas was as common as the kitchen stove. The electric generators were only larger, more complicated versions of the models built for high school science fairs. The screening of the people who ran them was no more complicated than that of an auto mechanic or of a construction worker.

But nuclear power is different. It was introduced to the world in 1945 asa weapon of unparalleled destructive capacity, killing more than 100,000people and incinerating two Japanese cities. The production of the atomic bomb was shrouded in secrecy for reasons of national security. Those working on the Manhattan Project were investigated by the FBI before gaining security clearance. Paradoxically, the nuclear weapons program gave birth to the Atoms for Peace program. The same officials who produced atomic bombs began to regulate commercial nuclear power production. Unlike producers of traditional energy, they kept secrets from the consumers who paid for this power. Even research for peaceful electricity has the overtones of secrecy and national security, as the June 1981 Israeli raid on an Iraqi research reactor demonstrated.

Just as in nuclear weapons production, security is central to the safe commercialization of the peaceful atom. Federal regulation of commercial nuclear power is based on the idea that only strict security and safeguard scan prevent the misuse of nuclear material. This federal regulatory regime tightly restricts access to and control over special nuclear material through rigorous security clearances, closely controls information regarding nuclear energy, and requires elaborate measures to protect nuclear facilities and materials, including physical barriers, detection, surveillance and alarm systems, and deadly force when necessary.

Such policies have raised far-reaching civil liberties questions. For ex-ample, if nuclear power is to become the major energy source of the future, as many government and industry officials hope, nearly everyone associated with it will be scrutinized far more closely than they would in the course of producing conventional power. The magnitude of the problem is apparent if one imagines what it would be like if such scrutiny of workers occurred in an industry producing a widely available commodity such as water. Such concerns make the alternatives to nuclear power more attractive because they do not demand such security.

The purpose of this paper is to survey governmental and private policies and practices intended to ensure the physical security of the commercial nuclear industry. To this end, this paper will first summarize the unique nature of nuclear power production, which demands intensive protection. Then this paper will highlight the public and private response to the imperative of nuclear security: the character and extent of governmental and private security activity, surveillance and infiltration, the use of deadly force, and the expansion of police powers.

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