Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

November 9, 2007

Nuclear Plant Penetrated in S. Africa

Filed under: Infrastructure Protection,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Jonah Czerwinski on November 9, 2007

The Pelindaba nuclear facility in South Africa was the target of an armed assault yesterday. Nevermind the talk of flying airplanes into reactors, this is a real world case wherein armed men were able to penetrate a series of security measures and actually enter the control room. This article was sent in by reader Steve Bogden.

A CRS study in 2005 entitled “Nuclear Power Plants: Vulnerability to Terrorist Attack,” argues that despite the heightened security measures imposed on nuclear facilities in the U.S. by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, industry has been slow to implement them.

The NRC explains its position on protecting nuclear facilities here with its three phase plan that was to be completed by now. I do not know where this effort stands.

In the past, security measures known as “buffers” or “layers” were considered the best way to restrict unauthorized access to such crucial infrastructure as a nuclear power plant’s control panel. Earlier this month, a man was discovered to be bringing a pipe bomb into a nuclear plant in Arizona – the largest one in the country in fact.  If the perpetrators of the break-in at Pelindaba had been armed with such a bomb, it is doubtful that any existing buffers would have stopped a terrible outcome.

Here is the article:

Attack at Pelindaba nuclear facility
By Graeme Hosken
The Pretoria News
November 09, 2007

A brazen attack by four gunmen on the Pelindaba nuclear facility has left a senior emergency officer seriously injured.

Anton Gerber, Necsa emergency services operational officer spoke to the Pretoria News from his hospital bed hours after the attack.

He was shot in the chest when the gunmen stormed the facility’s emergency response control room in the early hours of Thursday morning.

The shooting comes four months after Necsa’s newly appointed services general manager Eric Lerata, 43, was gunned down in front of his Montana home after returning from a business trip in France.

‘one of them attacked me with a screwdriver’
Pelindaba is regarded as one of the country’s most secure national key points.

It is surrounded by electric fencing, has 24-hour CCTV surveillance, security guards and security controls and checkpoints.

The attack comes as the country prepares to preside over an International Atomic Energy Agency convention on nuclear safety.

The convention is aimed at achieving a high level of global nuclear safety via safety related technical co-operation; establishing and maintaining effective defences in nuclear installations against potential radiological hazards and preventing accidents with radiological consequences.

A visibly shaken Gerber, who was rushed to Eugene Marais hospital, on Thursday said that he was sitting in the control room with his fiancée Ria Meiring when he heard a loud bang.

‘I could not let anything like that happen’
Meiring, who was working nightshift, is the supervisor of the control room.

Gerber said he kept Meiring company. “I do not like it when she is at work at night and I go with her to keep her company and ensure that she is safe,” he said.

Describing the attack Gerber said they were inside the electronically sealed control room when they heard a loud bang.

They then spotted the gunmen coming into the facility’s eastern block.

It is believed that the attackers gained access to the building by using a ladder from Pelindaba’s fire brigade and scaling a wall.

The men are thought to have forced open a window by pulling out several louvers.

Pushing Meiring underneath a desk, Gerber attacked two of the gunmen as they forced their way into the control room and ran straight for the control panel.

“I did not know what they were going to do. I just kept on hitting them even when one of them attacked me with a screwdriver.

“I knew that if I stopped they would attack Ria or do something to the panel.

“I could not let anything like that happen,” he said.

Unbeknownst to Gerber one of the robbers had shot him in the chest as he fought them off.

The bullet narrowly missed his heart breaking a rib before puncturing his lung. Doctors said the bullet missed his spine by 2cm.

Gerber, who at one stage thought he was going to die, said he had been very scared.

“The facility is meant to be safe. There are security guards, electric fences and security control points. These things are not meant to happen,” he said.

Necsa spokesperson Chantal Janneker confirmed the attack.

She declined to say how the gunmen had gained access to the facility or whether they had stolen anything.

Janneker said Necsa was conducting an internal investigation into the attack.

Once the police investigation was complete Necsa would divulge what happened, she said.

Later in the afternoon, Pretoria News was phoned by a man identifying himself as a Necsa legal adviser, saying the newspaper will be breaching the National Keypoints Act by publishing the story.

He said that Necsa may seek a court order preventing dissemination of the story.

He claimed that the interview with Gerber was “unethical” as “he was under sedation and thus incoherent” when it was conducted.

Pretoria News sought and was granted permission to interview Gerber, by hospital management, and Gerber himself. While he was obviously in pain, he appeared coherent and made sense throughout the interview.

His recall of the events was sequential and to the point. He also agreed to have his picture taken in his hospital bed.

North West police spokesperson Superintendent Louis Jacobs said that no arrests had been made.

“A case of armed robbery and attempted murder are being investigated,” he said.

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Comment by gick

November 9, 2007 @ 5:13 pm

just an fyi, out here in phoenix, we’ve got the palo verde reactors locked up tight. last week, a guy who had a pipe bomb in his truck (beleived to be planted by someone else) didn’t make it anywhere near the inside of the facility. also of note, i know they’ve installed the same sort of mini-guns that they put on the sides of navy ships to shoot down incoming missiles at a number of nuclear facilities.

Comment by Ohadi Langis

November 9, 2007 @ 6:39 pm

There is also a nuclear smuggling case that started in South African courts the same day as the reported attack. Any guess where the high speed switches allegedly sent to Pakistan might have come from?

Additional details on the gun fire at the former nuclear weapons plant in South Africa here.

Comment by DD877

November 10, 2007 @ 2:29 pm

I suppose They have Anti Aircraft and Towers Manned and all the physical security required to keep a well trained force from overwhelming the CCTV?

Pingback by Nuclear Plant Penetrated in S. Africa

December 5, 2007 @ 5:11 pm

[…] in homeland security today.            Nuclear Plant Penetrated in S. Africa The Pelindaba nuclear facility in South Africa was the target of an armed assault yesterday. […]

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