SCRIPT: Radioactive Road Trip (Primetime)

The college reactors date back to the Cold War when the government stressed the peaceful uses of nuclear power. They're much smaller than the big nuclear power reactors. But as this 1950s government film shows, an accident or sabotage could create a huge explosion. Essentially, a dirty bomb, a conventional explosion spewing radioactive material. Officials who license today's reactors say they have much safer designs and are so well shielded by concrete, there's little risk.

ROY ZIMMERMAN, NUCLEAR REGULATORY COMMISSION

I would say that both their safety and security is appropriate.

BRIAN ROSS

Roy Zimmerman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the NRC, is the Federal official in charge of the safety of college nuclear reactors.

BRIAN ROSS

They are in a heightened state of security awareness?

ROY ZIMMERMAN

Yes.

BRIAN ROSS

At these university reactors?

ROY ZIMMERMAN

Yes.

BRIAN ROSS

Have you ever done a spot visit on any of them?

ROY ZIMMERMAN

We have inspections that take place on a regular basis.

BRIAN ROSS

Unannounced visit, though? Unannounced visit?

ROY ZIMMERMAN

I'd have to check on that.

BRIAN ROSS

That's what we did.

ROY ZIMMERMAN

Right.

BRIAN ROSS

The ten Carnegie fellows broke into teams of two, with Dana Hughes and Tamika Thompson assigned to the Atlantic and Southeast states. Using home video cameras, they documented the steps along the way of their road trip.

TAMIKA THOMPSON

You want to go here or that way?

BRIAN ROSS

Dana and Tamika started at Penn State University where the reactor, using low enriched uranium, in its own building just down the road from a day-care center.

TAMIKA THOMPSON

There is the front entrance of the reactor.

BRIAN ROSS

As they arrived, Tamika could see the guard behind the shack, but she says there was a problem.

TAMIKA THOMPSON

He was sitting in the lawn chair outside of the booth, the security booth, and we can see him through the gates, and he was sleeping.

TAMIKA THOMPSON

It's 2:30 in the morning.

BRIAN ROSS

At night they found there's no guard at all. The NRC defended Penn State, saying the sleeping guard is not a guard and not part of the approved security plan.

ROY ZIMMERMAN

This unarmed individual is more of a watchman.

BRIAN ROSS

So, it doesn't matter if he's asleep.

ROY ZIMMERMAN

It may matter to university, but it's not NRC business.

DAN HIRSCH

What a horrible indictment of the federal authorities for having such minimal regulations.

BRIAN ROSS

Next, Dana and Tamika moved on to the University of Maryland, a half hour's drive from downtown Washington, DC. The reactor here is in an engineering classroom building about 30 feet down the hall from an unguarded entrance door that is supposed to be automatically locked at night. Dana and Tamika found the doors propped open by a garbage can through the night.

TAMIKA THOMPSON

It's 4:00 in the morning. Dana and I have been checking periodically since 9:00 AM yesterday morning to see if someone at the reactor facility would close the door. But even if they do, it's been open all day and all night.

BRIAN ROSS

The doors were never locked, and despite surveillance cameras, our team was never confronted as they walked around the building with their cameras. But university officials said they were not troubled by what we found.

PROFESSOR MOHAMMED AL-SHEIKHLY, REACTOR DIRECTOR

Here is one of the doors for the reactor.

BRIAN ROSS

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