Although there are quite a few fuzzy areas in anglopwr’s writeup above, I’m just going to respond to one very misleading snippet:

“Nuclear plants have concrete shielding more than a meter thick. In a test of the reactor’s shielding and strength, testers crashed a jet plane into a nuclear reactor. The plane disintegrated, with barely a dent left in the concrete.”

Not really. Nobody ever crashed a plane into a nuclear reactor, and NRC officials have actually gone on record to state that nuclear reactors were never designed with such events in mind. Nuclear plants are designed to withstand tornados, earthquakes, and similar catastrophic events, but NOT suicide attacks by hijacked jet liners.

But there was a test similar to what is described above. In 1988, an unmanned F-4 Phantom, ballasted with water and mounted on rails, was “flown” into a concrete wall at 480 MPH. As reported, the plane crumpled, and penetrated only about 2 inches of concrete. A very impressive test - except it wasn’t meant to be a test of nuclear reactor safety. The wall the F-4 crashed into was not a simulation of a nuclear plant’s wall. It was a 12-foot-thick wall mounted on an air cushion. The test was designed to study impact forces by measuring how far the impact would push the wall. Breaking through the concrete was the last thing any of the involved scientists wanted to achieve. Furthermore, the F-4 was ballasted with water to give it the same weight as a plane fully loaded with fuel, and its final weight was 42,000 pounds. Needless to say, crashing a 412,000 pound 767 loaded with fuel into a fixed wall would have slightly different results.

Big words, you say. Nice fearmongering, DM. But can you back it up with any facts? Well, actually I can. Because according to a 1982 study by the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois - a study which was conducted by request of the DOE and the NRC - the explosion from a 707 crashing into a containment dome at 466 MPH would probably overwhelm the reactor’s shielding. Note - that’s a 707, which weighs 336,000 pounds. In 1982 those were big jets. But we’ve “advanced” considerably since then. The 767s that were flown into the World Trade Center weighed 80,000 pounds more than that and carried a lot more fuel.

Other studies, again conducted for the NRC at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, found that a 125,000 pound jet had a 32 % chance of piercing a containment building’s six-foot base and an 84 % chance of breaking through the dome.

Ramming a plane into the containment dome isn’t the best way to attack a nuclear plant, either. There are other possibilities with much greater chances of success. I’m not going to discuss them, but the statement that “terrorists would be wasting their time messing with nuclear plants” is a gross misrepresentation. I’m not saying every nuclear reactor in the world should immediately be dismantled to prevent such an occurrence, but to claim that they are invulnerable is a disputed opinion, to say the least.

(I'm not quite sure how vuo's "reply or addition to my w/u" is really replying to me, since I never once mentioned nuclear blasts or radioctive contamination. I'm very well aware that breaching a containment dome will not produce a nuclear blast, and I didn't say it would. This is not a writeup for or against nuclear power. It is a correction to a false statement regarding how vulnerable nuclear plants are to being rammed by jet liners, and that is all it is.)


  • LYMAN, EDWIN, ‘Statement on the Science Article “Nuclear Power Plants and Their Fuel as Terrorist Targets,”’ Nuclear Control Institute, 2002. Available online at
  • IVRY, B. AND NUSSBAUM, A., ‘Indian Point casts nuclear shadow over North Jersey’, North Jersey News, 2002. Available online (cached) at
  • SERVATIUS, TARA, ‘Fuzzy Science’, Creative Loafing, 2002. Available online at