(Author’s Note: Nothing in this article violates any secure or safeguarded information. All of the information contained herein is open source or the author’s personal knowledge and verified by open-source research.)

In the days following September 11, 2001, to be anywhere outside of small town, USA invoked fear of being “on the X” when the next attack occurred. If the first attacks were indicative of a pattern, then large structures, especially those with any symbolism, were prime targets and were to be avoided. Of those, nuclear industry infrastructure, including power plants and storage facilities, were high on the list. While no attacks on the industry have occurred to date, it is worth revisiting nuclear security and its current state of readiness.

Historically, securing nuclear facilities has been a much discussed, but often misunderstood, topic. I worked as an armed security officer in the industry for a number of years, and while my time was spent at one generating plant, I was able to gain a healthy, but grudging, respect for most of the men and women who I worked with and for, and the industry as a whole. The issue at stake here, however, is that when it comes to critical infrastructure (much like in military or other national-security-related jobs), personnel selection and a bit of bureaucracy could mean the difference between an attack’s success and failure. And so far, the industry has gotten it right.

It should be noted that most industry experts (which I am not, but I agree) believe that the chances of there being an orchestrated attack on a nuclear power plant are slim. Could an attack happen? Of course. Anyone with a grudge and a rifle or pistol could make even a half-hearted attempt and cause some damage. But the likelihood that a concerted, well-armed attack would happen, and be successful, are nil.

Calvert Cliffs
Calver Cliffs Nuclear Plant. Photo courtesy: Enformable.com/Lucas W. Hixson

And I say this not because they don’t have the will, but more so they lack the way. But, call me paranoid (as some have already accused me of being), whether it happens or not, or could happen or not, it must be at least considered so that a plan is in place. It is only when we don’t have one that it…or something similar to it..will happen. Because Mr. Murphy (no relation to Jack) hates all things safe—and all things nuclear. Blessedly for us, a plan is in place, and so far has not had to be used.

In early September 2014, a reporter and photographer from the The Daily Caller claimed that they were able to drive onto the grounds of the nuclear power plant at Calvert Cliffs, Maryland, about 50 miles outside of Washington D.C., through a main gate and within close proximity to the reactor building, all without once being challenged by security personnel (see the article detailing their alleged break-in here). You can view the video they filmed, here.

To be fair, anyone not familiar with how a power plant is set up might perceive what appears to be an unchallenged intrusion as alarming and scary (hell, to those who are familiar with it, it’s alarming). But some of the claims made by the report might be taken with a grain of salt. I was able to speak with Frank R., a 10-year quick-reaction force member at a northeast nuclear power plant, and after viewing the video and reading the commentary and article, he had this to say: