Ten students, working for ABC News, visited nuclear reactors on 25 college campuses and found many gaping security holes at many of them, prompting a federal investigation. Here's what the team found at Washington State University.
Reactor Name: Washington State University Nuclear Radiation Center
Began Operating: 1961
Fuel: Highly enriched uranium, possession limit 20 kg.
Power Level: 1 MW
Location: A stand-alone building near cow pastures, the university golf course and about one-third of a mile from student housing.
Security Observations: No armed guards. No metal detectors. No searches. Tours available. Interested parties must fill out and fax an information sheet that includes their names, phone numbers, addresses, citizenship, ages and driver's license numbers. The building's front door remains locked during business hours. Bags, cameras and cell phones are not allowed on the tour. Vehicles can be parked both day and night about 10 feet from reactor building.
What We Found: A tour was scheduled two weeks in advance. Entry is only granted after stating name and purpose of visit over an intercom. Upon arrival at the reception area, licenses were photocopied and kept on file. An hour-long tour included access to the control room and reactor pool. Bags and cameras had to be left in the lobby or returned to vehicles.
University Reaction: Reactor Director Dr. Gerald Tripard would not comment on our findings or on reactor security. He did say, however, that post-9/11, the security philosophy has changed: "We used to operate under the principle that if something happened here we would detect it," he said. "Now we try to deter a potential breach of security."
Tripard said that the facility does not pose any risk to the surrounding community and if people try to break into the reactor, "they will not get away with it." He said that the university is prepared to handle the threat of sabotage.
Although the school does not have a nuclear engineering department, Tripard said Washington State University has one of the nation's best radiochemistry programs and several other departments use the reactor for research as well. The science performed at these reactors will save more lives than terrorists would be able to destroy, he said.
Additional Comment: "They are doing at least the fundamentals and basics of access control," said Ronald E. Timm, a veteran security consultant who has analyzed the vulnerability of the nation's nuclear laboratories for the Department of Energy.
Although Washington State University might not have enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon, some question why a university needs it at all.
HEU on campuses like Washington State University concerns Graham Allison, an expert in nuclear security at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. "What they should do is get the highly enriched uranium out of these places immediately," Allison said.