Rep. Christopher Cox orders review of nuclear reactor safety

Associated Press
October 1, 2004

IRVINE - Rep. Christopher Cox called for a Congressional review of whether a nuclear reactor used for university research poses a security threat, responding to allegations by his Congressional challenger that the low-level reactor could be a terrorist target.

Democratic candidate John Graham said Monday that the University of California, Irvine reactor should be shut down.

The university has dismissed the safety concerns, but Graham, a business professor at the school, said terrorists could undermine the security and spark panic in a heavily populated region.

Cox ordered the House Homeland Security Committee, which he heads, to look into the issue.

"While UCI disputes your concerns, I fully share your desire to make certain that UCI's reactor does not pose a threat to the campus or the larger community," said Cox, a Republican from Newport, in a letter sent to Graham on Wednesday.

"We are making a further inquiry to ensure that the university's representations are accurate," Cox said.

Because of a lack of full-time guards, the building where the reactor is located is vulnerable to a car bomb attack that could result in the release of radiation and chemicals, said Graham, a former Navy commando, who is running in the Republican-leaning 47th Congressional District.

The 35-year-old reactor generates a fraction of the power of a commercial nuclear plant and operates only a few hours a week. It is in a concrete-lined pool beneath the university's science buildings, where thousands of students attend classes.

Cox said he is willing to work with Graham because of his challenger's position as the school and because he has raised serious concerns about the university reactor.

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