Nuclear Plant Security and Cyber Terrorism

How To Improve Nuclear Power Plant Security

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While in the above discussion I concentrated on the Davis-Besse accident, I should note that this one Slammer attack has much wider implications. After this nationwide attack the National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee concluded that the American electric grid as a whole is controlled by a “Byzantine network riddled by security holes, including unsecured SCADA systems and by unprotected connections between plant and company business networks.”

How To Improve Nuclear Power Plant Security

In order to improve nuclear plant security it is essential to realize both the need for totally separating the corporate business networks from the plant networks and to realize that digital firewalls do not guarantee this separation. This separation must be absolute and software firewalls are not! Because the safety of the public is involved, the implementation of this separation cannot be left up to each plant owner or operator, but must be mandated by the NRC; otherwise the people living near nuclear power plants, (such as the residents of Long Island, N.Y.) can not feel safe.

Therefore, the NRC must totally forbid not only the remote operation of nuclear plants, but also the linking of plant operations networks with corporate LANs (local area networks). The convenience and cost savings associated with these corporate links cannot justify the risk they cause to the public. This also means that the NRC should require total separation between the corporate networks of utilities and the SCADA networks of the plants. These SCADA networks control the remote terminal units (RTUs) sprinkled throughout the plants, directly monitoring and/or controlling the operation of power plant equipment.

As I will be discussing in more detail in the coming articles, the steps to be taken to guarantee plant safety and security are not limited to providing digital separation. For example, one must also guarantee both the reliability of the data reaching the operators AND must protect the plant from operator errors, which can be unintended OR INTENTIONAL. The 21st-century interpretation of Murphy’s law says that it is just as possible for an operator to smuggle a bomb into the control room as it is to smuggle in a software package.

Therefore, the protection in nuclear power plants must be served by both redundancy and automation. In addition, the redundancy should not be a simple backup, but a triple- redundancy voting system implemented for both the hardware and the software of the plant. This means that in all nuclear power plants, all critical measurements and status indicators would be made by three accurate sensors, and the control system would act on the “majority view” which would automatically schedule the “disagreeing sensor” for maintenance and recalibration. The same would apply to all software packages including SCADA, SPDS, PPC, etc. networks in the plant. Similarly, in case of the digital systems and networks, as soon as one disagrees with the “majority view,” that one would be disabled and checked for virus or worm attacks.

In the area of protecting the plant from intentional or unintentional operator errors, I would provide hardwired interlocks on all critical safety systems and would configure the controls in such a way that the operators cannot bypass them or shut them down. In addition, I would set up a national review board that would not only train and check the background of operators, but would also arrange for the review of all existing process control loops in all 125 nuclear power plants to make sure that the conditions that have caused the over 100 accidents7 of the past are not still present in any of them.

In the area of nuclear waste management, we know that each reactor produces 20 tons of nuclear waste per year, and this waste is locally stored, usually in steel casks at temporary waste sites. These casks can be penetrated by regular weapons will release radioactive cesium gas. While these waste sites can be guarded 24 hours a day, the only safe solution would be to have a permanent waste repository. In the meanwhile, process control can much improve the security of these waste sites right now.

In addition to making the nuclear power plants more secure I would also require the NCR to use the tools of process control to improve the security of the uranium enrichment, transportation and waste storage (including military waste) in order to minimize the potential for theft. For obvious reasons, here I will not elaborate on the tools process control can provide to monitor and protect such sites, but just mention that it should be utilized if we want to protect societies around the globe from possible “dirty bomb” attacks.

I will continue this series in the January issue.

Béla Lipták, PE, control consultant, is also editor of the Instrument Engineers’ Handbook and is seeking new co-authors for the for coming new edition.

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