At Texas A&M, Carnegie Fellows were able to join a guided tour with no background checks and without showing any ID. The guide informed the tour group that the reactor had "like no guards and stuff." Texas A&M says it has since changed its policy, requiring a background check a week in advance for anyone seeking entry to its nuclear reactor.
At MIT, Carnegie Fellows were able to obtain a sensitive reactor operating schedule and floor plans from Internet sites and the MIT library. NRC investigators said they were investigating why such information was publicly available. The ABC News investigation also found that a vehicle could stop, unchallenged, on a dirt road within 50 feet of the reactor building. An ABC News producer went unchallenged as he drove down the road in a large rental truck and stopped next to the reactor.
"It's bad security and we can basically blow it," said Ronald E. Timm, a former security analyst for the Department of Energy who viewed the ABC News taped findings. "The truck is the real threat. You want to make sure the truck stays away 250 feet minimum."
MIT says an independent study indicated the reactor, the second most powerful college nuclear reactor in the country, could withstand a large truck bomb.
The ABC News findings renewed calls by nuclear safety advocates to either vastly improve security at the college nuclear reactors or close them. A federal government plan to convert the eight reactors using highly enriched uranium to low-enriched material is not expected to be complete until 2014. The plan was first proposed in 1982, but has been slowed by lack of funding.
"Wherever there's highly enriched uranium, those facilities should be adequately secured," said Allison. What ABC News found "doesn't meet that test," he said. "That's what I think is the bottom line of this story."
The ABC News project was part of a Carnegie Corporation of New York initiative in journalism education. The five schools who selected students for the project were: the University of California at Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism; Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism; Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government; Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism; and the University of Southern California's Annenberg School of Communication.
Senior Producer Rhonda Schwartz and Producers Jill Rackmill and Maddy Sauer contributed to this story.