Government and industry officials have acknowledged, however, that in some cases it could be an hour or more before any substantial response force could be assembled and dispatched.
The defense plan takes into account the increased terrorist threat, the NRC says in outlining the declassified version of the plan. It requires a guard force to be prepared to defend against attacks from multiple directions including from water. It also assumes a possible suicide attack and larger truck bomb than envisioned in the pre-9/11 document. It does not require plants to guard against an attack from the air.
The nuclear industry says most of the requirements already have been implemented and that nuclear power plants are much more secure than other potential terrorist targets such as chemical plants.
"We feel pretty good on balance that we have the right level or protection," says Steven Floyd, vice president for regulatory affairs at the Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry lobbying group.
But, he said in an interview, "Where do you draw the limit of what's the responsibility of the private sector and what's the responsibility of the federal government?"
"To be able to do what (some critics) are asking us to do we'd need our own army, navy and air force," said Floyd. The industry has long argued that it's a government responsibility to protect against such threats as an air attack or a ground attack by a large, well armed force.
"If you could pull that off and could put that force together, they probably wouldn't attack a nuclear power plant because they could just as easily attack a chemical plant" with much less security, argues Floyd.