U Disputes Reports of Security Lapses at Nuclear Reactor at University of Utah

U Disputes Reports of Security Lapses at Nuclear Reactor at University of Utah

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John Daley ReportingThe University of Utah is disputing a network news investigative report which claims to have uncovered significant security problems at nuclear reactors run on college campuses. Officials at the U contend the ABC News report exaggerated the risk and misrepresented existing security measures at the school.

In the basement of one University of Utah building is something many Utahns might be surprised to find--a nuclear reactor. In fact, there are such reactors on many college campuses, and an investigative report by ABC finds what it calls "gaping security holes" at 25 of them.

The network sent 10 students, Carnegie Fellows, to test security. The report says they found unmanned guard booths, unlocked buildings and guided tours that provided easy access to control rooms and reactor pools.

The U of U's Reactor Administrator and Director of its nuclear engineering program say a pair of women were escorted on a tour here, but the reactor was never at risk.

Melinda Krahenbuhl, Director, Center for Excellence in Nuclear Technology: "We are open for tours. They are one of the one thousand individuals who have toured this facility this year as part of our outreach program for Salt Lake and the Utah community."

The report notes that at the U of U there were no guards, no metal detectors and tours are available. It says at 12:30 AM a basement entrance to the building was unlocked, but never makes any mention that the women were escorted at all times or that they had to go through four locked doors to get to the reactor.

Perhaps most significant, according to Krahenbuhl, is that the U of U's reactor uses low-enriched fuel, at a power level one thousand times smaller than a nuclear power plant.

Melinda Krahenbuhl, Director, Center for Excellence in Nuclear Technology: "We're not talking about sneaking into a national lab. We're not talking about sneaking into places that hold material enough to create a dirty bomb. This reactor is secure. This reactor is safe."

She says both nuclear safety and terrorism are real dangers, but in this hot story fear has overwhelmed common sense.

We were unable to reach anyone from ABC News to comment. The network reports the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is looking at possible breaches of security at five schools, including the University of Florida, University of Wisconsin, Purdue, Ohio State and Texas A&M. Each uses highly enriched, weapons grade uranium to operate their reactors.

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