University Communications

The University of Wisconsin released a statement Thursday insisting its Nuclear Reactor Laboratory is operated and maintained in a safe and secure manner.

The release is a response to accusations stemming from an ABC News investigation probing security of research reactors on 25 college campuses across the nation. The investigation claimed to have found many gaping holes in the security at uranium-fueled campus reactors, including one at a UW lab.

However, professor Michael Corradini, director of UW's engineering and engineering physics program, said the reactor has always been protected.

"The reactor has a security plan," Corradini said. "It is not possible for someone to gain direct access to our nuclear reactor."

The UW reactor is of a type designed to automatically shut down in the event of an emergency, and the uranium would be lethal to anyone who tried to remove it.

"There is no way anyone would be able to steal the uranium from the reactor even if they did have direct access," Corradini said.

Corradini said any weaknesses in lab security found in the investigation and reported were false.

According to the release, two female ABC interns who posed as students attempted to gain access to the lab, but were turned away. The interns reached the threshold of the lab by following a student employee who opened a door in front of them. The release insists the interns did not have meaningful access to the lab.

Adam Pockriss, ABC News spokesperson, refused to comment on the genesis of the investigation, but said ABC sent 10 college graduate students to probe the security of several campus laboratories. Pockriss said the interns were conducting the research as part of a fellowship program.

"[The graduate students] received intensive training and specific instructions," Pockriss said. "Throughout their work, these fellows were supervised on a daily basis."

The ABC News program Primetime aired the story Thursday night. Pockriss said the purpose of the program was to show what kind of access regular people had to nuclear reactors. Though the program implied there should be legitimate concern about terrorism and the use of the reactors' uranium as a weapon, Pockriss denied a terrorism correlation.

"It was not meant to be a simulation of a terrorist plot," Pockriss said.

The release concedes that because UW is a public research university, the reactor cannot be restricted. The purpose of a public university is to remain an open, scholarly environment where people can share knowledge. Consequently, UW provides tours of the lab.

However, security measures like identity verification and bag searches are conducted routinely in conjunction with the tours, and the UW release acknowledged a general need for heightened security.

"In the post-Sept. 11 world, the university understands the need to be aware and prepared for many different contingencies," the release stated. "The security plan for the research reactor has been altered accordingly, undergoes regular review and represents an appropriate level of security. We are confident in the plan and the ability of various campus units … to maintain the high level [of] security the lab requires."