The Nuclear Energy Institute and its sidekick, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, are not in denial about serious security vulnerabilities–they just don’t seem to care and they’re using secrecy to hide legitimate criticism. NRC/NEI intransigence might result in billions lost and thousands of deaths. This Washington Post article outlines the threat posed by the 800-1000 tons of radioactive spent fuel rods stored in pools at nuclear power plants.
Funny. NRC claims that the National Academy of Sciences’ report addressing the threat is classified and should not be released to the public, but the NRC response–with detailed rebuttals–is made public. It looks like NRC doesn’t want the public to see the whole story, just NRC/NEI’s side of it.
Last spring, POGO’s senior investigator, Peter Stockton, gave a presentation on inadequate security standards and the vulnerability of spent fuel pools to the National Academy of Sciences. Security experts–including Army Special Ops forces from Ft. Bragg, NRC security staff, and others–told POGO that NRC is not planning for security to counter coordinated threats from 12+ attackers using automatic weapons, sniper rifles, and explosive charges. Using “surprise, speed and violence of action,” terrorists could gain access to spent fuel pools from the outside fence in an alarmingly short amount of time. Once there, the detonation of explosive charges could blast a hole in the bottom or in a wall of the pool. At this point:
“According to an unclassified study by Brookhaven National Lab, under certain conditions the pool would start draining immediately. This could result in the immediate release of high levels of radiation, quickly turning into an uncontrolled radioactive fire, and the plant could do nothing effective to stop it. This report found that a severe fire in the spent fuel pool could render about 188 square miles uninhabitable, cause as many as 28,000 cancer fatalities, and cost $59 billion in damage.” (emphasis POGO's)
Besides the physical effects, there would a multiplier effect which would magnify the chaos. Psychologically, and in turn financially, the entire country would be devastated.
POGO recommended that NRC upgrade its “Design Basis Threat” to deal with a more serious attack than it assumed. NRC has tweaked its DBT, yet it's far from robust considering the risks. And since the Energy Department has drastically improved its own DBT, the disparities between the two DBTs has widened with the needed attention of Congress refocused on NRC’s lackadaisical attitude.
There's one other solution too, in addition to higher security standards. The WP noted that "[a]fter cooling for about five years, the rods can be moved to dry storage -- heavy casks of lead and steel." Dave Lochbaum at the Union of Concerned Scientists told the Post that "[i]n the event of a terrorist strike...the dry casks would be much safer, because explosions could drain the pools and set off fire and radiation hazards."