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Nuclear Safeguards Education Portal

Introduction to Physical Protection Systems (cont.)

A nuclear security officer patrols the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant in Avila Beach, Calif. (Source: AP Photo)
A nuclear security officer patrols the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant in Avila Beach, Calif. (Source: AP Photo) 

As designated by the IAEA, nuclear security is concerned with four threats that are unique to facilities and transport vehicles that handle nuclear and radiological material. These are:

  1. the malicious theft and use of nuclear weapons;
  2. the malicious theft and use of nuclear material to build an improvised nuclear explosive device (IND);
  3. the malicious theft and use of radiological material to cause harm to individuals or the environment, including building a radiological dispersion device (RDD) or a radiological exposure device (RED); and
  4. the dispersal of radioactive material through the sabotage of facilities in which radioactive material can be found or of radioactive material in transport.

In addition to these concerns, nuclear facilities will want to protect other assets such as classified materials or physical property.

Nuclear facilities must protect against a spectrum of threats that could include domestic or international terrorists, religious or political extremists, criminals, or insider employees. Each type of threat has a different set of characteristics and each may need to be addressed individually, as security measures will have varying degrees of effectiveness against each threat. Typically, nuclear security is most concerned with acts of nuclear terrorism, because out of the spectrum of potential attackers some terrorist organizations are the most capable and most motivated to cause one of the four nuclear security threats.

Nuclear terrorism is defined as the use or threat to use nuclear material, nuclear fuel, radioactive products or waste, or any other radioactive substances with toxic, explosive, or other dangerous properties in order to kill or injure persons, damage property or the environment, or to compel persons, States, or international organizations to do or to refrain from doing any act (adapted from the UN International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism).

Since the threats facing nuclear facilities are great and attacks on these facilities could have very serious potential consequences, effective PPS design requires a methodical approach, where objectives of the PPS are weighed against available resources. This kind of approach is necessary to ensure that resources are not wasted on unnecessary protection while concurrently ensuring that the PPS provides an adequate level of protection against the spectrum of threats that exist. The subsequent chapters of this course will explain a methodology that is used at nuclear facilities to design the PPS and ensure adequate protection against threats.

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