US Nuclear Institute reports secure nuclear facilities

US Nuclear Institute reports secure nuclear facilities

7 April 2005 - An unclassified version of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) study on the safety and security of used nuclear fuel at US nuclear power plants made public Wednesday says that US nuclear plants are well protected and security has been improved since September 2001.

In the study, the Nuclear Energy Institute's chief nuclear officer Marvin Fertel says, "When read in their totality, the National Academy of Sciences study and the response to it by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission further validate what is already widely acknowledged by independent experts - namely that nuclear power plants have long been the best-protected facilities in our nation's industrial infrastructure. The industry since September 2001 has invested $1bn -plus in security improvements at our power plants, including used fuel storage facilities, to make them more secure than ever.

"To the extent that the study's worst-case scenarios lead the NAS to suggest that some nuclear power plants might take even more steps to reduce even further the low probability that an attack on used fuel storage facilities could cause a substantial release of radiation, I offer five observations:

The report comes up with five comments and recommendations regarding improved security of nuclear fuel storage facilities, in order to guard against a worst-case scenario of an attack.

" The NAS report does not recommend unloading of used fuel from storage pools into dry storage containers.

" As directed by the NRC, nuclear power plants are assessing the potential to effectively augment already-redundant safety systems to ensure cooling of used fuel assemblies in the fuel pools. This is consistent with the NAS recommendations and is above and beyond the first series of protective measures that the NRC ordered in 2002.

" The NRC's response to NAS states clearly that, even after conducting additional risk analyses, it considers the likelihood of a zirconium fire capable of causing large releases of radiation to the environment to be extremely low.'

" Computer modelling on aircraft impacts conducted by EPRI in 2002 confirmed the strength of used fuel storage facilities, and the worst-case scenario approach taken by the NAS on events with very low probability does not lend itself to informed decision-making by policymakers. State-of-the-art computer modelling techniques applied in the EPRI aircraft study determined that typical nuclear plant containment structures, used fuel storage pools, fuel storage containers, and used fuel transportation containers at U.S. nuclear power plants would withstand these impact forces despite some concrete crushing and bent steel.

" The nation needs to appreciate that the best way to protect the nation's entire critical infrastructure, which includes nuclear facilities, is to place a high priority on prevention of airliner attacks by terrorist organizations. It is far more effective, and less costly to the nation, to prevent attacks rather than try to protect the entire critical infrastructure. As a nation, we have taken several steps to do so, including screening passengers, deploying air marshals, hardening cockpit doors and increasing passenger awareness."

The Nuclear Energy Institute is the nuclear energy industry's policy organization.

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