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By Rebecca LaFlure, Center for Public Integrity 

Cooling tower at MIT's Nuclear Reactor Lab, in October 2009. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Cooling tower at MIT’s Nuclear Reactor Lab, in October 2009. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

At a research facility some two dozen miles from the White House, government scientists operate a nuclear reactor burning uranium that could be used to build a nuclear weapon. A similar research reactor sits just blocks from where the suspected Boston Marathon bombers gunned down a campus policeman. A third reactor is located in the Midwest, less than a mile from a 71,000-seat college football stadium.

Yet more than a decade after the Sept. 11 attacks, these facilities “are particularly vulnerable to sabotage attack” and are not required to meet tougher standards used by the military to protect its weapons-grade uranium from terrorists, say the authors of a new Pentagon-funded study.

By Justin Elliott, ProPublica 

Hijacker Khalid al Mihdhar, foreground, passes through security at Dulles International Airport hours before American Airlines Flight 77 slammed into the Pentagon

Hijacker Khalid al Mihdhar, foreground, passes through security at Dulles International Airport hours before American Airlines Flight 77 slammed into the Pentagon

In defending the NSA’s sweeping collection of Americans’ phone call records, Obama administration officials have repeatedly pointed out how it could have helped thwart the 9/11 attacks: If only the surveillance program been in place before Sept. 11, 2001, U.S. authorities would have been able to identify one of the future hijackers who was living in San Diego.

Last weekend, former Vice President Dick Cheney invoked the same argument.