According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Information Digest 2004-2005 Edition, there are 26 nuclear reactors on university campuses around the United States which are aimed toward increasing research.
Here on the West Coast are four campuses with nuclear reactors: UC Davis, Oregon State, Reed College and UC Irvine.
UCI’s nuclear reactor is located at the basement of Rowland Hall, the chemistry department building.
The reactor, which first started operating in 1969, is fueled by low-enriched uranium and is at a 250 kilowatt power level.
The reactor is operated by the Department of Chemistry for use in radiochemistry and hot-atom chemistry applications.
The majority of students at UCI are probably unaware our campus is home to a nuclear reactor. It may come as an even bigger shock to learn that UCI’s nuclear reactor is vulnerable to terrorist attack.
For many of our parents who might have watched the ABC special about UCI’s recent ‘loose nuke,’ it is a bit disconcerting to learn their son’s or daughter’s safety could be in jeopardy.
In 2003, UCI officials took extra precautions with the 250-kilowatt nuclear reactor due to a heightened security alert.
An ‘orange alert’ was issued throughout the nation, requiring high-risk sites to increase security.
Access to the reactor was restricted to those individuals who had gone through a comprehensive background check.
However, an ABC investigation concluded that there are gaping security holes which leave the UCI nuclear reactor vulnerable. ABC found that their team of students easily entered the building on two separate occasions and had little trouble locating the reactor room.
Despite security cameras, the students videotaped the reactor at length through a window with no interference from security personnel.
If the building is under ‘constant surveillance,’ one cannot help but speculate as to how students easily gained access to the reactor, unchallenged, during the middle of the day.
On a separate occasion, the team even reported that the doors to the building were found propped open with a book at 1:30 a.m.
UCI’s reactor supervisor Dr. George Miller commented that the door should not have been propped open, but ‘students will be students.’ Miller is confident that security has been tightened since Sept. 11.
However, there was no comment about how the security has been improved on the ground.
Although it is possible that other campuses may be easy targets, UCI is extremely susceptible to terrorist truck bombs and other attacks.
UCI’s nuclear reactor could be considered a prime target on the West Coast for even amateur terrorists.
Considering that terrorists prefer to communicate messages to the widest possible audience, a wealthy city is a much better target in order to acquire a large audience and media coverage.
An individual could easily have the ability to create a ‘dirty bomb’ that would not only be fatal, but have long-lasting, detrimental contamination effects.
The easy access to the reactor clearly indicates poor training on behalf of security personnel at UCI.
The recent events have prompted further investigation which shouldn’t come as a shock, because with no metal detectors, no guards and finding a side door to the building propped open with a book, we can conclude that the university needs to boost security or shut down the reactor permanently.
Reut R. Cohen is a second-year English major.