Nuclear facilities are located closer to Americans' everyday lives than they realize -- and they are "particularly vulnerable to sabotage attack."

A Pentagon-funded study done by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin depicts the frightening security weaknesses of the nation's civilian nuclear research facilities, according to the Center for Public Integrity.

"Three of the nation's civilian nuclear research facilities and its 104 commercial reactors remain ill-prepared to guard against large-scale terrorism threats," the research organization reports.

All three of the civilian reactors -- located at the University of Missouri in Columbia, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, Md. -- are fueled by uranium that can be used to build a nuclear bomb.

Sources in the Aug. 15 report claim nuclear plant operators are only required to use guns, gates and guards sufficient to stop "five or six well-armed terrorists." In addition, it would take up to two hours for a SWAT team to respond to and engage with attackers if a larger-scale attack were launched, the report reveals.

In their report, researchers Lara Kirkham and Alan Kuperman write that terrorists consistently think of nuclear power plants as ideal targets, citing reported threats and attempts to blow up or penetrate reactors in Argentina, Russia, Lithuania, Western Europe, South Africa, and South Korea.

Kuperman said in a statement released with the report that the "consequences of the theft or sabotage from civilian nuclear facilities are so great that they need to be protected at the same higher standards used by the military for its nuclear weapons and bomb fuel," the Center for Public Integrity reports.

"It would be a tragedy if the United States had to look back after such an attack on a nuclear reactor and say that we could have and should have done more to prevent the catastrophe," Kuperman said.