SCRIPT: Radioactive Road Trip 10/05

Tonight an invitation to join "Primetime" on a cross-country road trip and one we think is unlike any one you've ever seen before. It will have some familiar ingredients: students, souvenir pictures, kids up all night, but a very different destination. The assignment: to see how hard or easy it is to infiltrate nuclear reactors on college campuses. You may not know that these reactors are all over the nation and filled with just the kind of radioactive materials that terrorists want. As you watch this stunning investigation, remember how America lectures other countries on protecting their nuclear materials. And another note, before you write us those letters saying we've given the terrorists a playbook, you should know that six weeks ago, we disclosed our findings to the 25 universities and to officials in Washington, so they could fix the problems before the broadcast aired. So now, ABC News Chief Investigative Correspondent Brian Ross sets off down the road on a radioactive road trip, beginning with an all-American football game.

BRIAN ROSS, ABC NEWS

Football Saturday at the University of Florida. 88,000 people in one of the country's biggest stadiums in one of the great American fall traditions. Just 200 yards away from the makings of a potential dirty bomb in this unguarded campus building, a building that houses in its basement a little-known nuclear reactor run on highly enriched weapons-grade uranium.

DAN HIRSCH, COMMITTEE TO BRIDGE THE GAP

There is nothing on earth more dangerous than weapons-grade nuclear material.

BRIAN ROSS

Yet, as part of an ABC News investigation, two journalism graduate students were able to show up unannounced and gain access in only about five minutes, carrying with them large bags that were not searched for weapons or explosives. A terrorist's dream according to the head of a nuclear watchdog group, Dan Hirsch.

DAN HIRSCH

A terrorist with a little bit of explosives in a backpack like that student would be able to release a vast amount of radioactivity in a very populated area. It would be a coup.

BRIAN ROSS

There are 25 college campuses with nuclear research reactors, and our investigation found gaping security holes at many of them. Unmanned guard booths, unlocked doors, and again and again, easy access with no background checks, no metal detectors to reactors using some of the most dangerous material in the world. This is the blue glow of radioactive uranium being kept cool at the bottom of a pool of water.

DAN HIRSCH

This is how it was 20 years ago. This is not how it should be after 9/11.

BRIAN ROSS

We conducted our investigation with the help of the non-profit Carnegie Corporation and ten graduate students selected to serve as Carnegie fellows assigned to ABC News for the summer. The students began their research as terrorists might. Using the Internet for a surprisingly large amount of detailed information about the location, operation and personnel at the nuclear reactors.

TAMIKA THOMPSON, CARNEGIE FELLOW

Once I knew the name of the reactor, it was a gold mine. All the information was there.

BRIAN ROSS

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

Professor Mohammed al-Sheikhly runs the reactor and says even if someone got through these locked doors, he is confident campus police could quickly respond in what he called the highly unlikely event of a terror attack.

BRIAN ROSS

Aren't these outside doors supposed to be locked at night?

PROFESSOR MOHAMMED AL-SHEIKHLY

Not necessarily.

BRIAN ROSS

Not necessarily?

PROFESSOR MOHAMMED AL-SHEIKHLY

Not necessarily.

BRIAN ROSS

The sign says locked.

PROFESSOR MOHAMMED AL-SHEIKHLY

I'm not concerned about this.

BRIAN ROSS

Are you concerned terrorists could ...

PROFESSOR MOHAMMED AL-SHEIKHLY

I am not concerned at all about the terrorists.

BRIAN ROSS

You're not concerned about terrorists.

PROFESSOR MOHAMMED AL-SHEIKHLY

Absolutely not.

DAN HIRSCH

You just wonder what the university president or chancellor is thinking, to have doors wide open all night for a facility that has a nuclear reactor inside. It's just mind boggling.

BRIAN ROSS

Dana and Tamika's final stop was the University of Florida, where the reactor is in the middle of the campus, across the street from the stadium.

DAN HIRSCH

This particular reactor has 93 percent enriched fuel. That's the stuff that a connoisseur would salivate over. It is pure bio-grade material.

BRIAN ROSS

Yet our students here were able to get inside the reactor room itself by simply showing up and asking for a tour.

STUDENT

You're in the right place.

BRIAN ROSS

A student working as a licensed operator opened the first two of three locked doors. They were told to put their cameras away, but their bags were never checked and were left in a hallway just outside the reactor door about ten feet from the nuclear fuel itself. There were no metal detectors, no background checks and no guards as the reactor director himself unlocked the final door for the strangers.

REACTOR DIRECTOR

I don't have much time, but I'll give you maybe 15 minutes.

DANA HUGHES, CARNEGIE FELLOW

He didn't ask for our IDs until right before we went into the reactor, and it was almost, I would say, an afterthought. He said, "Oh, wait, I have to get your IDs."

TAMIKA THOMPSON

He became our key, and we were able to get into all of these rooms through him. If we were terrorists, we wouldn't need to have him let down his guard. He would be doing the same thing at the end of a gun barrel.

BRIAN ROSS

What we found at the University of Florida nuclear reactor is now the subject of an investigation by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, concerned that strangers could get inside so easily.

BRIAN ROSS

What if they're terrorists and they overpower the man?

ROY ZIMMERMAN

Then you're left with the potential for a crude dirty bomb.

BRIAN ROSS

Across the street from a football stadium that on game day holds 88,000 people. The NRC says a dirty bomb here or at any of the university reactors would be unlikely to cause any significant health effects because they're so small, but others who have studied the matter are not so sure, including Professir Graham Allison of Harvard, a former assistant secretary of defense who knows a lot about the dirty bomb.

PROFESSOR GRAHM ALLISON, HARVARD UNIVERSITY

The reactors themselves could become the sources of substantial dirty bombs. It spews radioactivity, and that radioactivity can create radiation sickness. It can significantly increase our chances of getting cancer or leukemia or other diseases.

(Commercial Break)

ANNOUNCER

"Primetime's" Radioactive Road Trip. Here's Brian Ross.

BRIAN ROSS

It was in the Midwest that the radioactive road trip hit its first snag.

MELIA PATRIA, CARNEGIE FELLOW

It's Melia and Hsing. We are at Kansas State University. We were taking some shots of the library and a cop car, the Kansas police, backed into the back of us and wouldn't let us roll out.

BRIAN ROSS

It was a Kansas state police officer who finally challenged our graduate students at the library, not the nuclear reactor.

MELIA PATRIA

He said we fit a profile of two students who were visiting reactors.

BRIAN ROSS

After almost two weeks on the road, it was the first visible sign of a response in our investigation of security awareness at the country's 25 college nuclear reactors. And only after the students had discovered some serious security gaps at other schools. Only after.

RONALD TIMM, FORMER DOE SECURITY ANALYST

After doesn't count. After never counts. After says the system failed.

BRIAN ROSS

The two students who were finally challenged had begun their road trip in Columbus, Ohio at Ohio State University.

MELIA PATRIA

My name is Melia Patria. And I recently graduated from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.

HSING WEI, CARNEGIE FELLOW

My name is Hsing Wei. And I will have one more year at the John F. Kennedy School at Harvard University.

MELIA PATRIA

We're doing a self-tour of the campus. And we're very curious about ...

STUDENT

The nuclear reactor lab?

MELIA PATRIA

Yeah.

STUDENT

Well, what do you want to know?

MELIA PATRIA

I don't know. Do you guys give tours?

STUDENT

Sure.

BRIAN ROSS

If they were terrorists, they would be dangerous. Hsing and Melia were able to arrive unannounced at Ohio State and gain immediate access through the locked reactor security door.

MELIA PATRIA

No swimming in this area?

STUDENT

It's a joke.

BRIAN ROSS

Using their driver's licenses for ID and carrying large tote bags that were not checked until after the students were ten feet from the reactor pool that holds the radioactive fuel. There were no guards, no metal detectors.

HSING WEI

We were literally peering into the pool itself.

BRIAN ROSS

Ohio state says its reactor employee became suspicious when they saw the two young women taking these pictures of the parking lot, pictures that show a possible truck bomb scenario. Vehicles can park right next to the reactor building.

HSING WEI

That was probably the most shocking part. Literally, there's parking spaces right up against the side of the building.

BRIAN ROSS

The very next day, Melia and Hsing were able to gain the same easy access to the building housing Purdue University's nuclear reactor, a place licensed to hold three kilograms of highly-enriched weapons-grade uranium. It was accessed day and night.

MELIA PATRIA

Wide open.

BRIAN ROSS

And how did you find out?

MELIA PATRIA

We just tried the door. We visited again at midnight, at 11:00 PM, like on a Saturday. We went back on a Saturday. And each time it was open.

BRIAN ROSS

So no problem getting in the building?

MELIA PATRIA

No problem getting in the building at all.

BRIAN ROSS

And on a scheduled tour, Hsing and Melia were able this time to walk right into the reactor itself with their unchecked bags. Past a sign that said packages were subject to search.

MELIA PATRIA

But we walked in with our bags, and he saw us with our bags, and he didn't enforce the rule.

BRIAN ROSS

He didn't look inside the bag?

MELIA PATRIA

He didn't look inside.

BRIAN ROSS

Any metal detectors?

MELIA PATRIA

No metal detectors.

BRIAN ROSS

Any guards, armed or otherwise?

MELIA PATRIA

No.

BRIAN ROSS

Security experts say terrorists trying to create a dirty bomb would begin by throwing explosives into the pool of water that keeps the uranium at the bottom cool.

BRIAN ROSS

If you had wanted to toss what was in your bag into the pool, could you have?

HSING WEI

Definitely.

MELIA PATRIA

Very easily.

RONALD TIMM

Basically, that is ground zero for destroying the reactor. It's zero security. It is no security. There is no security there at all.

BRIAN ROSS

The Purdue lab director says he was keeping an eye on the bags, but would not comment further on security at his nuclear facility. The NRC security chief was not pleased at the failure to check the strangers' bags.

ROY ZIMMERMAN

Another one that we would want to understand why that wasn't done.

BRIAN ROSS

The road trip continued on to the University of Wisconsin.

HSING WEI

There is no guard.

BRIAN ROSS

The reactor here is licensed to hold up to 18 kilograms of highly enriched uranium. A nuclear weapon could be built with 25 kilograms.

MELIA PATRIA

We walked right in through the backdoor.

HSING WEI

We just walked in and wandered down various hallways. Really, we were just standing by doors until people would approach us to ask us if we were looking for information.

STUDENT

That's as close as you're going to get.

HSING WEI

And little by little, we would be continually directed towards the right place.

BRIAN ROSS

Unchallenged by security guards?

HSING WEI

No.

MELIA PATRIA

There were no guards there.

BRIAN ROSS

There were no tours available, but using their wits and a fair amount of charm, Melia and Hsing found a way in thanks to a helpful professor.

TEACHER

I think they're going through a door in the basement.

MELIA PATRIA

The valuable information he gave us was that he pointed out the basement doors to the reactor.

BRIAN ROSS

And in the basement, unannounced with their bags and belongings unsearched, Melia and Hsing were able again to talk their way in to a nuclear reactor.

MELIA PATRIA

Can we have a peek? What kind of work do you do here?

MELIA PATRIA

I think we probably had an easier time getting in because these engineering departments are dominated by male students. And I don't think that they have very many female students coming to visit or expressing interest, so that may have been on our side.

HSING WEI

Will one of you take a picture of us?

STUDENT

Yeah, you can take a picture.

RONALD TIMM

It's theirs. They own that reactor. It is theirs. There is no security. It's not failed because failed would say there's something that I was able to challenge and didn't work. In this particular case, there was nothing there to even challenge. And shame on them and shame on the NRC which is overlooking what they're doing.

BRIAN ROSS

Despite what our video shows, the University of Wisconsin says our two students never made it past the safety threshold. They clearly did. And NRC officials say they have opened an investigation into what they say may be one of the most serious security lapses that we found.

ROY ZIMMERMAN

It warrants further review, and we will do that.

BRIAN ROSS

Doesn't please you to see that.

ROY ZIMMERMAN

Does not please me.

HSING WEI

Can I take another picture of it?

STUDENT

One more.

BRIAN ROSS

Finally, it was only after Melia and Hsing had found the problems at Wisconsin, Purdue and Ohio State that they were challenged at Kansas State University.

MELIA PATRIA

How close can I stand?

BRIAN ROSS

The people who run the Kansas State reactor claim they knew all about the two young women before they arrived and produced these surveillance photos of them in the reactor to prove it.

STUDENT

Can I get you to squeeze in and smile really big?

BRIAN ROSS

The video Hsing and Melia made shows they were left alone for more than an hour with two student guides, two young men who seemed thrilled with the opportunity.

STUDENT

My roommates are never going to believe that two cute girls came and looked.

HSING WEI

You gaie a tour?

MELIA PATRIA

So at that point we felt very free to shoot whatever we wanted, and they didn't stop us.

HSING WEI

We were standing on the top of the pool for over an hour, roughly an hour.

BRIAN ROSS

So you pretty much had the run of that place.

MELIA PATRIA

Oh, yeah.

BRIAN ROSS

Hours later, as Melia and Hsing were shooting these pictures of the campus library, a campus police officer became curious and someone finally challenged the two students. Not at the reactor, but at the library.

MELIA PATRIA

We'd already been there by the time the patrol officer stopped us.

BRIAN ROSS

They called ABC headquarters in New York to report.

MELIA PATRIA

We don't feel we've done anything wrong, but he did see Hsing with the video camera and said, 'Oh, you know, you've been shooting around campus.' So as far as I'm concerned, we didn't break any rules.

BRIAN ROSS

The security of the library is far superior to what's at the nuclear reactor.

MELIA PATRIA

Definitely. The security at the library is far superior.

BRIAN ROSS

Of course, the library has no radioactive material.

ANNOUNCER

Up next, our Radioactive Road Trip continues as we move southwest. Do guys have a tougher time getting in?

STUDENT

You really can't tell us about it?

(Commercial Break)

ANNOUNCER

"Primetime" with a Radioactive Road Trip. Once again, Brian Ross.

STEVE GROVE, CARNEGIE FELLOW

What is this? This is Tucson, Arizona.

KARSON YIU, CARNEGIE FELLOW

My name is Karson Yiu, and I study journalism at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

STEVE GROVE

The hotel clerk said it's a bit cooler here right now. His definition of cooler was 105 degrees.

STEVE GROVE

My name is Steve Grove. I'm a Master's of public policy student at the Kennedy School at Harvard.

BRIAN ROSS

Our third team of student Carnegie fellows headed for the nuclear reactors at colleges in the Southwest. At the University of Arizona in Tucson, the nuclear reactor is in the middle of the campus.

STEVE GROVE

Here's the reactor.

BRIAN ROSS

Employees here told Karson and Steve they take the terror threat seriously, at least during the day.

KARSON YIU

We just stood beyond the windows videotaping.

STEVE GROVE

They wouldn't let us in. They said they needed time to check our background for security reasons.

BRIAN ROSS

But we also told Steve and Karson to check it out at night.

KARSON YIU

We're going to the reactor. It's about midnight. We just drove by, and we saw the lights of the reactor room on. There probably isn't anyone there. There's no security around. We don't see them.

BRIAN ROSS

First the students walked right up to the reactor building where only an ordinary pane glass window kept them out.

STEVE GROVE

There it is.

BRIAN ROSS

If there were security cameras, no one responded to strangers climbing next to the windows of the reactor. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission security head was surprised about that.

BRIAN ROSS

Should they have been able to get this close for so long undetected?

ROY ZIMMERMAN

That's one that I would like us to understand better.

BRIAN ROSS

This bothers you?

ROY ZIMMERMAN

Yes.

BRIAN ROSS

But that's not all they found. As they went to check if the building's doors were locked ...

KARSON YIU

It's open. Access in the middle of the night.

BRIAN ROSS

And then around to the other side of the building. The president of the University of Arizona told us he believes the reactor is safe and secure and would not make an attractive target for terrorists.

MATTHEW BUNN, FORMER NUCLEAR SAFETY ADVISER

It confirms fears that I've had for a long time.

BRIAN ROSS

We showed our tapes to Harvard University's Matt Bunn, a former White House advisor on nuclear safety. He says what our students found is further evidence the NRC has not been tough enough requiring universities to properly secure their nuclear reactors.

MATTHEW BUNN

They don't have to have armed guards. They don't have to have a security plan in place to defeat terrorists trying to come in. They don't have to be protected against a truck bomb.

BRIAN ROSS

Instead, most of the college reactor security plans rely on a quick response by campus police. Our students rarely saw any campus police anywhere near the nuclear facilities.

BRIAN ROSS

Is that really good enough?

MATTHEW BUNN

No.

BRIAN ROSS

In the wake of what we know about al Qaeda?

MATTHEW BUNN

No.

BRIAN ROSS

And again at a second unguarded college reactor, Steve and Karson found they could easily move around at night unchallenged. This one at the University of California in Irvine.

STEVE GROVE

That's going to be a sweet shot, dude.

BRIAN ROSS

Within minutes they made a surprising discovery at a building door just above the reactor.

STEVE GROVE

We did a little walk around the building and got to this backdoor just above the reactor on the first floor. And somebody had propped a book into the door actually. It was called ...

KARSON YIU

"Dancing With Bees."

STEVE GROVE

"Dancing With Bees."

BRIAN ROSS

The reactor director here said the inside door to the reactor was locked but he acknowledged the outside door should also have been locked. Again, our students saw no sign of campus police, the supposed quick response team.

STEVE GROVE

We stuck around for about 45 minutes.

KARSON YIU

Maybe an hour.

BRIAN ROSS

And it remained open?

KARSON YIU

It remained open.

MATTHEW BUNN

Security costs money, and if you actually imposed serious security requirements on them, many of them would probably end up shutting down.

BRIAN ROSS

As Karson and Steve moved across the southwest, they moved to the University of New Mexico at Albuquerque and a different kind of surprise.

STEVE GROVE

Our trip to New Mexico has not led us to believe that there's much of a way to get into this nuclear reactor.

BRIAN ROSS

The nuclear reactor here is one of the smallest on any campus but is one of the few where the research reactor director turned away the strangers with backpacks.

KARSON YIU

We asked for a tour. And he just flat-out turned us down. He said, 'I'm sorry, since September 11th, we just can't do this kind of thing.'

BRIAN ROSS

Here there actually seemed to be a heightened state of security awareness.

KARSON YIU

All the entrances are punch coded or keycard swiped. That place was locked down. I mean, New Mexico passes the test.

BRIAN ROSS

Then it was on to Texas, to Texas A&M. The president of this university is a former head of the CIA, Robert Gates. The nuclear reactor is just down the road from the George Bush Presidential Library. And the reactor itself uses weapons-grade highly enriched uranium. And yet our students without any background checks had no problem gaining access with their cameras rolling to the reactor pool, what would essentially be the ultimate target for a terrorist. Texas A&M is licensed to have as much as 17 kilograms of highly enriched uranium. That's what's at the bottom of this pool being kept cool in the water. It takes 25 kilograms to make a nuclear weapon.

STEVE GROVE

I mean, compared to the other reactors we went to, this was as close as we got. And we got, you know, right above the pool.

BRIAN ROSS

But you didn't have to show any ID.

KARSON YIU

We didn't have to show any ID.

BRIAN ROSS

No ID?

STEVE GROVE

No. The same kind of thing you'd fill out for a magazine subscription, just, you know, name, address.

BRIAN ROSS

If you had something hidden in your clothing, would it have been detected?

STEVE GROVE

They didn't have metal detectors.

BRIAN ROSS

Could you have thrown that something into the pool if you wanted to?

STEVE GROVE

Sure.

KARSON YIU

Sure.

BRIAN ROSS

And the tour guide, after stating how important security had become since 9/11, freely revealed an important security detail.

STEVE GROVE

Are there like, guards and stuff, or you really can't tell us about?

STUDENT

No. Did you see the guards? Yeah, there's no guards and stuff, so ...

BRIAN ROSS

It turns out the federal government does not require Texas A&M to have guards on site. Instead, they are permitted to rely on nearby campus police to respond quickly.

MATTHEW BUNN

When you're talking about not only sabotage, but potential nuclear bomb material that might get stolen, in my view, you got to have better security than we have today.

(Commercial Break)

ANNOUNCER

"Primetime's" Radioactive Road Trip continues.

BRIAN ROSS

A perfect setting. A Fourth of July in Boston as the Boston Pops Orchestra performs along the Charles River. A perfect setting for an act of nuclear terrorism. A dirty bomb that Professor Graham Allison of Harvard says this country has yet to adequately defend against.

PROFESSOR GRAHAM ALLISON

Everyone that I know who studied the problem says a dirty bomb attack is long overdue.

BRIAN ROSS

Just across the river from where the Boston Pops performs on a public street in the City of Cambridge in this white-domed building is the second biggest university nuclear reactor in the country, run by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The reactor is licensed for as much as 40 kilograms of highly enriched weapons-grade uranium, more than enough to make a nuclear weapon.

PROFESSOR GRAHAM ALLISON

Highly enriched uranium anywhere is a threat to Americans everywhere. Highly enriched uranium that's vulnerable anywhere could be the stuff of a nuclear bomb.

BRIAN ROSS

Our investigation set out to test security at MIT's reactor. To see how far our students could get. To see if the university properly guards key operating details. To see how close we could put this truck, which if loaded with explosives would have the potential of creating a dirty bomb that could affect large parts of the Boston area.

ROY ZIMMERMAN

The dirty bomb is a threat. We have concerns about dirty bombs. We don't want to see a dirty bomb occur.

BRIAN ROSS

So the MIT reactor became the principal focus for the two students assigned to the Northeast for our "Primetime" project.

ARIANA REGUZZONI, CARNEGIE FELLOW

My name is Ariana Reguzzoni. And I just graduated from UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.

MICHAEL ANDERSON, CARNEGIE FELLOW

I'm Michael Anderson. And I am a student at Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism.

BRIAN ROSS

Starting on the Internet on MIT's own website, it took Ariana and Michael less time than it takes to download a few tunes to discover that the reactor's hours and days of operation are not secret, nor is its actual location.

MICHAEL ANDERSON

Get a satellite image if you wanted to look at it from above.

BRIAN ROSS

An unhappy surprise to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's security chief Roy Zimmerman.

BRIAN ROSS

You really want that out there publicly?

ROY ZIMMERMAN

It's something that is probably worth re-evaluating.

BRIAN ROSS

So, you're not happy to see things available?

ROY ZIMMERMAN

No, that's something I'd want us to pursue, and we will.

BRIAN ROSS

Even more surprising was what Michael and Ariana found at the MIT library in Cambridge, details that are supposed to be unavailable outside the university.

MICHAEL ANDERSON

You don't need an ID or anything to get in. I sat down at one of the catalog computers next to the circulation desk. And that counted as an on-campus computer, so I was able to access these links that I hadn't been able to from New York.

BRIAN ROSS

What they found and what we've blurred for security reasons were detailed floor plans of the reactor building itself. A gold mine for terrorists according to former Department of Energy security analyst Ronald Timm.

RONALD TIMM

This is what the bad guy is looking for when he lays out his plans. He's looking to say, 'Okay, if this is ground zero, where basically the reactor is at,' he's saying, 'What's the best way for me to get in there?'

BRIAN ROSS

For years, Timm worked with what are known as the red teams, the special units at the Department of Energy that challenge and test security at nuclear facilities.

RONALD TIMM

They're trained to the level that they expect the terrorists to be and actually try to beat the system by crawling over fences, crawling under fences and things of that nature.

BRIAN ROSS

But such security tests are not conducted against college nuclear reactors, even though federal officials maintain that college reactors are prepared for terror threats.

RONALD TIMM

I'm not sure where they get their confidence from.

BRIAN ROSS

Would you call this a heightened state of awareness?

RONALD TIMM

Not at all. I mean, there is no awareness. Not even a low level of awareness. There is no awareness going on.

BRIAN ROSS

We showed Timm what we found at the MIT reactor. First, Ariana and Michael arrived at the building for a scheduled tour with Michael wearing a large backpack. The school says it had a security man shadowing the two students.

BRIAN ROSS

You came in with this big backpack.

MICHAEL ANDERSON

Uh-huh.

BRIAN ROSS

It was full of books.

MICHAEL ANDERSON

Right.

BRIAN ROSS

But did they ask what was in it, or did they look inside it?

MICHAEL ANDERSON

No.

BRIAN ROSS

They didn't put it through any kind of detector?

MICHAEL ANDERSON

No.

BRIAN ROSS

There were two armed guards inside, and our students were told to leave their backpacks outside the reactor itself. Timm says that was a good start but still not good enough.

RONALD TIMM

Did they go through metal detectors?

BRIAN ROSS

No.

RONALD TIMM

So, they could have had the .22 or .25 pistol or maybe even a big pistol.

BRIAN ROSS

It turns out that metal detectors, standard equipment at airports and federal office buildings, are not required at college nuclear reactors, even the ones with weapons-grade uranium, including MIT.

ROY ZIMMERMAN

Where do you stop? How much security do you need?

BRIAN ROSS

Just a metal detector?

ROY ZIMMERMAN

How much security do you need for the potential risk associated with this facility?

BRIAN ROSS

And you think you have enough in place right now at these facilities?

ROY ZIMMERMAN

We do.

BRIAN ROSS

But what we found outside the MIT reactor raised even more questions. A "Primetime" producer rented this moving truck in Boston and drove it across the Charles River to Cambridge. Using the maps and floor plans our students found on the Internet, the truck headed for a dirt alley way along a rail track behind the reactor and was able to pull up and stop unchecked and apparently undetected about 30 feet from the reactor.

BRIAN ROSS

What does this tell you in terms of what do you see as a security point of view?

RONALD TIMM

Bad security. This is bad security.

BRIAN ROSS

Too close?

RONALD TIMM

Oh, way too close. You want to make sure the truck stays away, say, 250 feet minimum.

BRIAN ROSS

250 feet.

RONALD TIMM

Oh, yes.

BRIAN ROSS

And with one of your teams, how long before they have access there?

RONALD TIMM

Parking that vehicle right alongside that would probably take maybe 60 seconds for us to cut a hole big enough to drive the truck and park it in there. For a person going over, it would be 10 seconds.

BRIAN ROSS

The truck was empty, but about the same size used to carry barrels of homemade explosives 10 years ago to the Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

BRIAN ROSS

How quickly should they have detected the truck?

RONALD TIMM

They never should allow the truck to be there.

BRIAN ROSS

You don't see this as serious security?

RONALD TIMM

There is no security there at all.

BRIAN ROSS

The NRC security chief says scientific studies show the MIT reactor, with its heavy shielding, could survive such a close-range truck bomb. But the fact that our truck could get that close was another unhappy surprise for him.

ROY ZIMMERMAN

It's something that I think is worthy of follow-up and we intend on doing that. And if the security plans are not being met or if, in hindsight, there is an additional measure that should be put in place that's not currently there, we want to be able to look at that.

BRIAN ROSS

So this could be valuable to you?

ROY ZIMMERMAN

Yes, very much so.

(Commercial Break)

MICHELLE RABINOWITZ, CARNEGIE FELLOW

We were sent to the Pacific Northwest.

TRACI CURRY, CARNEGIE FELLOW

I'm Traci Curry. And I just graduated from the UC Berkeley School of Journalism.

MICHELLE RABINOWITZ

I'm Michelle Rabinowitz. And I just graduated from USC's Annenberg School.

BRIAN ROSS

On the final segment of the Radioactive Road Trip, Traci and Michelle managed to come back with a story that no one else had found, in addition to the growing questions about security.

MICHELLE RABINOWITZ

I think deep down I really hoped there would be a lot of security everywhere. That's just your instinct when you hear the word nuclear.

BRIAN ROSS

But like the other teams, they, too, found security lapses. This was the University of Utah in Salt Lake City late at night as Traci and Michelle approached the building housing the reactor.

TRACI CURRY

We were expecting, of course, that all the doors would be locked, and we tried the final door, and the door was open. It was about 12:30 AM and we walked in. And that was pretty scary, because it was late at night and we were able to walk in there all the way up to the door leading to the office where the reactor was located.

BRIAN ROSS

The reactor door itself was locked, but officials at the university would not answer our questions about why the outside door was unlocked.

BRIAN ROSS

Did anybody show up to question you?

TRACI CURRY

No.

BRIAN ROSS

But Traci and Michelle's story took a different turn when they arrived at the laid back campus of Reed College in Portland, Oregon. Student population 1,340. Traci and Michelle began to wonder why there are nuclear reactors on college campuses to begin with, especially at Reed which has no nuclear engineering department.

ROY ZIMMERMAN

They cover a whole myriad of activities. They're involved with cancer research and radio isotopes to help cancer patients.

BRIAN ROSS

Is there really a need for so many?

ROY ZIMMERMAN

Well, they serve different purposes.

BRIAN ROSS

But at Reed College, for instance, in Oregon, they don't have a nuclear engineering department. Why do they need a nuclear reactor?

ROY ZIMMERMAN

Again, that's something that I would need to do some additional - additional review on.

BRIAN ROSS

You're with the nuclear regulatory commission. You have these 25, you say they serve a useful purpose. What's the useful purpose served at Reed university?

ROY ZIMMERMAN

That's something I'd need to get back to you on.

BRIAN ROSS

Our students raised the same question about the need for such reactors at Washington State University. Its reactor at the edge of a cow pasture, is licensed to have as much as 20 kilograms of highly enriched weapons-grade uranium, almost enough to build a nuclear bomb.

TRACI CURRY

Tour guide told us that a lot of students probably don't even know it's there.

BRIAN ROSS

So the school does not have a nuclear engineering curriculum?

MICHELLE RABINOWITZ

No.

BRIAN ROSS

But it has a nuclear reactor?

MICHELLE RABINOWITZ

Yes.

BRIAN ROSS

According to the university's web-site, the reactor can be rented by the hour. The reactor director says the science performed here will save more lives than terrorists would be able to destroy. But the tour guide told Michelle and Traci the reactor had to take commercial business to keep going.

MICHELLE RABINOWITZ

Because there wasn't really a big need for it for research purposes, they took in business from lots of commercial sources.

BRIAN ROSS

That's also true at the biggest college nuclear reactor in the country at the University of Missouri. It is licensed for enough highly enriched uranium to make more than two nuclear bombs. But our students discovered that among the important projects being carried out at the reactor is the irradiation of topaz. The radioactive rays make the gems a much richer blue. Two nuclear bombs worth of uranium to help the topaz business. The school says that helps to pay for valuable research and training.

DAN HIRSCH

I think anyone who operates one will privately tell you that their heyday was decades ago.

BRIAN ROSS

Nuclear safety advocate DAN HIRSCH helped push to shut down the nuclear reactor in UCLA in the 1980s.

DAN HIRSCH

The UCLA case, they were using it a few hours a year for instruction and for more than 50 percent of their operating hours for irradiating flawed gems. If a device has lost its usefulness, we shouldn't place people at risk. And if it has a usefulness, we then had better protect it.

BRIAN ROSS

As a final note, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission says it has now opened an investigation based on the findings by ABC News. In particular, just how easy it was for our students, strangers, to get so close to some of the most dangerous material in the world.

HSING WEI

I've been very surprised that with seven pounds of enriched uranium, anybody can walk into that building.

KARSON YIU

There's no security around. We don't see them. Usually on bikes. We see no cops on bikes right now.

TAMIKA THOMPSON

Because we were friendly and because the director let his guard down, if we were terrorists, we wouldn't need to have him let down his guard. He would be doing the same thing at the end of a gun barrel.