Go Rupa. You're absolutely right that flaws in our nuclear power security are one of the biggest real-world threats we face today -- far more serious than the relatively minor threat of incoming nuclear balistic missiles that we are nevertheless spending $10 billion a year to defend against. The crux of the problem is that the nuclear industry, like all industries, resists government safety regulation for the simple reason that it cuts into profits. Case in
point:last fall a computer at a nuclear power plant I will not name was infected by the Slammer worm computer virus. This generic virus took down some safety monitoring systems for many hours, and one can only wonder what a targetted terrorist virus could do to our nuke plants. Despite the obvious threat, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) which is responsible for US civilian nuclear safety, refused to modify the rules governing computer security at nuke plants. Not necessary, they argued. Too expensive, was the subtext. Sadly, the NRC has industry's interests first, and the American people's second.
The Metropolitan Medical Response System (MMRS) was the subject of an agressive attack by the Administration, despite the fact that the program is relatively cheap ($50 million) and highly praised as the most effective Federal first responder program by firefighters across the country -- I should know, because I was Markey's staffer on this and talked to lots of them before writing the legislation that helped save it. As best we could tell, the Administration was going after MMRS for three reasons.
First, it is too decentralized for their tastes, since each city gets to decide how best to spend the dollars they get for their local preparedness. This Administration hates not being in control. Second, it was a program they didn't create; they have launched the Cities Readiness Initiative to replace it, which as far as I can tell does the same thing in a worse way -- but is a "Bush Initiative". And third, DHS is in some serious trouble with funds for the Strategic National Stockpile, the Federal stockpile of anti-terror drugs. Specifically, DHS bought a hell of a lot of a particular kind of smallpox vaccine, that is of questionable effectiveness. Embarassing questions were being asked last spring about smallpox preparation, and I and others believe the Adminsitration was looking for a ready program to raid for cash to make a rapid purchase of another smallpox vaccine for the SNS. MMRS appeared to be an easy target. Thankfully their attempts in the spring to "reprogram" FY2004 money were blocked.[Ed. Check out this pdf.]
The FY2005 funds for MMRS are in fact not yet secure.
While the House appropriations bill for Homeland Security includes all $50 million for the program, the Senate bill includes no funds. When the two bills are reconciled in conference this fall, it's likely that the program will only get about half funding, meaning that over 100 cities in the US will have their funds to prepare local first responders for terrorist attacks cut in half. Why? In the bigger picture, I think it's ultimately because DHS --under this Administration -- wants things done its way or no way.
Rather than letting cities decide how to best prepare for attacks on their local turf, DHS wants to keep control and determine things from the top. Can't trust those locals, I guess. Wish somebody would tell the locals that before November.
Spring 2006: Guest Bloggers!
Rishi | Scott | Emily
Echan | Robert | ToastyKen