especially for decisions regarding the expenditure of limited societal resources to address terrorist threats.

The 2002 National Research Council report Making the Nation Safer: The Role of Science and Technology in Countering Terrorism framed this issue as follows (NRC, 2002, P. 43):

The potential vulnerabilities of NPPs [nuclear power plants] to terrorist attack seem to have captured the imagination of the public and the media, perhaps because of a perception that a successful attack could harm large populations and have severe economic and environmental consequences. There are, however, many other types of large industrial facilities that are potentially vulnerable to attack, for example, petroleum refineries, chemical plants, and oil and liquefied natural gas supertankers. These facilities do not have the robust construction and security features characteristic of NPPs, and many are located near highly populated urban areas.

Groups seeking to carry out high-impact terrorism will likely choose targets that have a high probability of being attacked successfully.4 If success is measured by the number of people killed and injured or the permanent destruction of property, then spent fuel storage facilities may not make good terrorist targets owing to their relatively robust construction (see Chapters 1 and 3) and security. Industrialized societies like the United States provide terrorists a large number of “soft” (i.e., unprotected) targets that could be attacked more easily with greater effect than spent fuel storage facilities. These include chemical plants, refineries, transportation systems, and other facilities where large numbers of people gather (see NRC, 2002).

On the other hand, there are other success criteria that might influence a terrorist’s decision to attack a “hard” (i.e., robust or well protected) target such as a commercial nuclear power plant and its spent fuel storage facilities. Such attacks could spread panic and shut down the power plant for an extended period of time even with no loss of life. Moreover, an attack that resulted in the release of radioactive material could threaten the viability of commercial nuclear power.

These considerations led the committee to conclude that it could not address its charge using quantitative and comparative risk assessments. The committee decided instead to examine a range of possible terrorist attack scenarios in terms of (1) their potential for damaging spent fuel pools and dry storage casks; and (2) their potential for radioactive material releases. This allowed the committee to make qualitative judgments about the vulnerability of spent fuel storage facilities to terrorist attacks and potential measures that could be taken to mitigate them.


This point was made to the committee in a briefing by the Department of Homeland Security, where “success” means that the terrorist was able to achieve the goals of the attack, whatever they might be.

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