Bailout of nuclear and coal plants won’t protect grid from hackers, critics say

Cyber-security experts have pointed out flaws in the Trump administration’s suggestion that bailing out nuclear and coal power plants would strengthen their defences against cyber attacks, Reuters reports.

Recently, President Donald Trump ordered the department of energy to prepare to bailout coal and nuclear power plants in the US that will reach the end of their planned lifetimes in the coming years. According to the White House, allowing the ageing plants to close could leave the US more vulnerable to cyber attacks, as well as to extreme weather and physical attacks.

While most renewable-based plants are reliant on certain environmental conditions and gas facilities are continually fed by a pipeline, nuclear and coal power plants are often described as “fuel secure” due to storing enormous quantities of fuel on site. The White House has argued that these fuel-secure plants buttress the US energy infrastructure and should be retained.

However, critics have argued that the Trump administration is simply continuing to defend what Trump has described as “beautiful coal” rather than invest in the renewable energy facilities necessary for reducing America’s considerable carbon footprint.

“I don’t see where a policy of keeping open ageing infrastructure that would shut unless there was federal market intervention keeps us any safer from cyber attacks,” Professor Chris Bronk, a computer and information systems expert at the University of Houston, told Reuters.

Hackers seeking to cause havoc by targeting the US energy infrastructure have a range of options. According to Bronk, the coal power supply line is as susceptible to hackers and other threats and although nuclear facilities may be enormously well-protected targets, a potential incident involving the leaking of radioactive substances into their surroundings could be devastating.

Fears around the hacking of infrastructure have grown following incidents of cyber attacks and attempted cyber attacks on the infrastructure of Ukraine, Taiwan and other countries. In March, the White House accused the Kremlin of attempting to attack US nuclear, water and manufacturing infrastructure.

In January, UK defence secretary Gavin Williamson opined that a Kremlin-backed cyber attack could bring the country to its knees and cause “thousands and thousands and thousands” of deaths by crippling the national grid.

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