A&M Reacts to Reactor Questions

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Nuclear safety will be the topic of a report on ABC's Primetime Live Thursday, and Texas A&M's Nuclear Science Center will be a part of the feature. A&M officials fear the security of the facility may be in question, so they're speaking out early.

"I think our whole endeavor here is to try and anticipate that there might be concerns coming out of this ABC story since we have no idea what they're going to say," said A&M president Robert Gates.

The facility features a core with 60-percent-enriched uranium, well below weapons grade, which is 90 percent. And even then, the enrichment of the NSC's core has declined over time. When it was installed 35 years ago, it was at 75 percent.

According to the facility, commercial users of their services are industrial tracer companies, oilfield services companies, private research companies and radioactive medical isotopes users. One-third of dialysis membranes in the country are produced at NSC.

Researchers at A&M use the reactor in their studies of archaeology, horticulture, oceanography, soil and crop sciences, and veterinary medicine.

With such activity being conducted on a daily basis, the NSC offers tours. Some 2,000 students visit the facility every year.

"Some of the other research reactor facilities don't offer public tours," said Gates, "but we feel, given the nature of ours and the purpose of it, that there's value in that."

A pair of ABC News interns posed as regular visitors to the facility, and A&M expects hidden camera footage of their tour to be used in the report. But the school says the educational opportunity for those touring, which is supported by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, does not come without major security measures, seen or unseen.

"We wouldn't do anything that's unsafe," said Warren Reece, director of the NSC, "and even if I wanted to, Dr. Gates wouldn't let me. And even if he wanted to, the NRC wouldn't let us.

"We have security forces that conduct periodic and random checks," he continued, "particularly during off hours."

"There is a lot of security around it," Gates elaborated. "The best security based on my experience is what you don't see."

Regular security aren't the only ones who say things are safe at the NSC. Two former presidents, Bush and Clinton, have toured the facility in the past, and Secret Service and FBI say it's safe and sound.

A February 2005 audit of the NSC was approved by the NRC. Following the terror attacks of September 11, all commission-licensed facilities were reviewed, with security being enhanced at NSC and every reactor.

As for the possibility of a terror group attempting to commandeer the uranium, "we're not a particular attractive target," said Reece, "nor are we attractive, once you had this material, to do anything with it."

Put simply concerning security at the facility, Gates said, "I'm quite comfortable."

A&M features two nuclear reactors, both of which are fully compliant with Nuclear Regulatory Commission standards.