The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has warned that the nation?s 103 nuclear power plants could be a target of an airline attack. ?The NRC issued a message saying you need to be aware that there is some information that indicates a nuclear power plant could be a target and to be aware of your surroundings and report anything unusual to the FBI,? says Gordon Johndroe, spokesman for Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge.

Another U.S. official says the NRC document is based on information passed on by the FBI after a senior al Qaeda operative was debriefed. The document warns of a second airline attack on America, this time on a nuclear power plant.

Johndroe says President George W. Bush warned in his State of the Union address that al Qaeda is gathering information on new potential targets inside the United States. ?This is why we remain on alert,? he says.

Bush said documents found in Afghanistan show that the war against terror is just beginning. ?We have found diagrams of American nuclear power plants and public water facilities, detailed instructions for making chemical weapons, surveillance maps of American cities, and thorough descriptions of landmarks in America and throughout the world,? Bush said.

An FBI spokesman says the bureau had not issued any public warning about an attack on a nuclear power plant. NRC spokesman Roger Hannah says, ?Up to this point, there has been no credible threat to a any nuclear power plant in this country.? He says security at U.S. nuclear power plants remains ?on heightened alert? since the Sept. 11 attacks, and there has been no recent change in that security level.

U.S. intelligence agencies have issued an internal alert warning that Muslim extremists are planning to strike again, possibly targeting a U.S. nuclear power plant. The NRC document reportedly cites information from the FBI saying a second airline attack on the United States has already been planned and three individuals are on the ground in the United States recruiting non-Arabs to take part in it. The plan is to fly a commercial aircraft into a nuclear power plant, and if any military aircraft intercept the plane, the mission would be diverted to any nearby tall building.

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Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson says the government has already taken steps to protect against a nuclear attack. He says the U.S. government has recently stockpiled ?millions of doses? of potassium iodide in case of a nuclear attack.

The release of radioactive fallout from an attack on a nuclear power plant, or even the explosion of a primitive, easy-to-make dirty nuclear device, could cause heavy casualties. Most of the loss of life would be caused by radioactive fallout.

Fallout includes radioactive iodine, which can be carried hundreds of miles upwind from a release point, and which enters people?s bloodstreams. Once in the body, it can be absorbed by the human thyroid and cause sickness and death. By immediately taking potassium iodide, however, a person can saturate the thyroid with non-radioactive iodide, blocking the absorption of radioactive material.

Thompson says the government has already moved supplies to the vicinities of potential nuclear danger spots. Potassium iodide must be taken a short time after the release of fallout, and individuals near the attack site would only have minutes before they needed to begin taking it.

To learn more, read ?No Such Thing as Doomsday? by Philip Hoag, click here.

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