Home Asian News Insider threats and nuclear security during the pandemic - The Diplomat

Insider threats and nuclear security during the pandemic – The Diplomat


Nuclear security is a challenge under all best circumstances. Such challenges can be compounded by several times in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic as governments may not fully grasp the consequences and spillover effects of the policies they adopt to deal with the pandemic. for seemingly unrelated issues. For example, COVID-19 inevitably has resulted in enormous economic and social pressures on many societies and, therefore, potentially leads to greater psychological stress. Without a doubt, this will also directly or indirectly affect employees in sensitive nuclear facilities, leading to potential insider threats. The Review of the Parties to the Amendment to the Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials (CPPNM) Convention in Vienna this July is a good opportunity to review the status of the Personnel Reliability Programs ( PRP) while identifying insider threats as part of protective measures.

In September 2020, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) hosted discuss on the impact of the pandemic on nuclear plant operations, safety and security in operations under COVID-19 conditions, radiation protection and emergency preparedness. These discussions take place within the framework of the annual meeting of the International Nuclear Safety Group (INSAG), a group of leading experts in the world debating and advising on nuclear safety issues. Issues such as resilience and information exchange are key in this unprecedented time, experts emphasize. The discussions also reiterated the importance of human resources, physical constraints, and rules about maintaining appropriate emergency and remote preparedness. The participants also clearly shared best practices on mitigation measures through a number of steps including “quarantining new workers, halting construction work at nuclear power plants, [and] work with reduced workforce. ”

Even though these are so important in dealing with physical protection and operating nuclear plants, these discussions overlook the fact that some of these steps could exacerbate these problems. Insider threats, another important aspect of nuclear security. Internal threats can worsen under extremely stressful conditions like an ongoing pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic and related shutdowns in different countries affected the general economic conditions of those countries, leading to a downsizing of operations, job layoffs, and reduced Employee presence in the facility and a certain percentage of staff virtual work mode. All of these can lead to employee resentment and dissatisfaction and can therefore increase the risk of an insider attack.

Why are insider threats a special concern? Employees of nuclear and power plant installations, as well as security personnel posted at such sites,, subject to the level of access, have a fair understanding of facility operations. their nuclear facilities, their security systems and their established security protocols, as well as any loopholes and security holes that may exist. The fact that these employees are allowed to pass through multiple layers of security systems in place increases security vulnerabilities. Because insiders are known and trusted colleagues, it is nearly impossible for others in the facility to detect any strange or suspicious behavior. Practices related to institutional security culture should be strengthened to ensure early reporting of potential threats from insiders. Due to the natural reluctance to report on friends and colleagues, especially in the midst of a job-killing pandemic, individuals need to be encouraged by organizations to report on alert indicators.

While internal threats can be rare, the consequences are dire when they do happen. Almost all recent incidents of nuclear theft or loss of high altitude uranium (HEU) and Plutonium (Pu) happened with the help of an employee, or even worse, major crime is done by an employee. This highlights the vulnerabilities and the viability of this growing threat. Such incidents happen for a variety of reasons, including an employee who is dissatisfied with their employer or tempted by financial perks and other perks. Writing on these matters, Matthew Bunn and Scott Sagan discuss that “the sabotage of disgruntled employees” has long created concern in the nuclear industry.

One of the most effective means of checking for insider threats is to do an extensive background check on employees who may have before they are recruited. These checks are repeated periodically or when an employee is being moved to a more secure installation or assigned to a higher security project. But these are not safety measures and they are not guaranteed against security breaches. A more comprehensive and thorough approach is needed – which can include ways to deal with dissatisfied employee problems, implementing better inventory management, and rigorous material accounting procedures. more stringent – required. It should be noted that it is easy for employees to steal small quantities of ingredients in material handling facilities in the form of powder or liquid as small quantity theft can be easily noticed.

While such incidents can be isolated and occur in a particular security context, experiences and lessons learned from such incidents need to be widely disseminated. These are neither new nor specific to any country or region. Come back 1982, there was an incident at the Koeberg nuclear power plant in South Africa, in which “an insider placed explosives directly on the steel cylinders of a nuclear reactor and then detonated them. “. The problem happened before the factory went into operation. There are also cases of rapid political radicalization that could wipe out the best human reliability (PRP) programs designed to address insider threats. Take care of Ilyass Boughalaba safety technician who has a senior security certificate to Doel nuclear power plant in Belgium. Around the end of 2011 or early 2012, Boughalab became extremist, joined the Islamic State, left for Syria and was killed there. While there is little indication that he actually sought to use his security measure to threaten the plant itself, but undetected his radicalization was of concern. Curiously, in 2014, there was an insider attack on the Doel-4 nuclear power plant that drained the oil from the turbine, shutting the plant down for months and causing economic losses of hundreds of millions. dollar, though the perpetrator has not been arrested and the attack itself is not affiliated with Boughalab.

Usually, internal threats are viewed in the context of a disgruntled employee motivated to express anger and resentment towards their employer. Whereas many atomic energy managers have to speak that they have “managed to maintain safe operations” even during a pandemic, one can never be complacent about employee satisfaction. The IAEA has been proactive in this regard and launched the Operational Experience Network COVID-19, a pilot peer-to-peer network intended as a “repository for planned or implemented response actions. show “in a pandemic. This is a helpful step, but there is no perfect or perfect solution to the problem. The fact that such possibilities of insider threats in the context of a pandemic are not specified in national or international discussions should be of concern. The CPPNM revision of the July review meeting was a useful opportunity to highlight the importance of insider threats and take appropriate steps both at the global and national level.

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