Ten students, working for ABC News, visited nuclear reactors on 25 college campuses and found gaping security holes at many of them, prompting a federal investigation. Here's what the team found at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.
Reactor: Nuclear Reactor Facility
Fuel: Low-enriched uranium
Power Level: 10 kW
Began Operating: 1959
Location: WPI's reactor sits behind a locked door in an academic building in the center of campus, near the student union, president's office and other major buildings.
Security Obervations: Background check required for tour. The building doors were open during the day, but access to the reactor room itself was restricted. Building doors locked by guard at 10 p.m.
What We Found: A virtual "tour" on the lab's Web site includes photographs and descriptions of the reactor control console, the walkway above the reactor pool and the reactor core. Upon arrival, the Fellows were able to enter the building and locate the reactor room door.
But despite an invitation on the reactor's Web site to stop by "anytime" in person for a tour, the director would not allow access to the reactor room and told the visiting Fellow to back away from the door. The director said that WPI no longer gives reactor tours without two weeks' notice for a background check. He told the Fellows that after 9/11, "we can't just let people wander in."
The Fellows returned at night to find the building doors locked. They were able to walk around the building's perimeter and remain in the area for about an hour and a half unchallenged.
University Reaction: In an e-mail to ABC News, Michael Dorsey, director of communications for the university, wrote that the security plan for WPI's nuclear reactor is "considered appropriate for a facility of this small size and configuration."
"WPI assessed its security procedures after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Some changes to the visitor access guidelines, specifically to our tour policies, were proposed to the NRC (Nuclear Regulatory Commission) and accepted," he wrote.
Additional Comment: "I would give them a good check mark for following procedures," said Ronald E. Timm, a veteran security consultant who has analyzed the vulnerability of the nation's nuclear laboratories for the Department of Energy. "But if a person were suicidal or homicidal," Timm said, "they could still use force" to try and gain entry to the reactor room.