In summary, the committee judges that the plausibility of an attack on a spent fuel storage facility, coupled with the public fear associated with radioactivity, indicates that the possibility of attacks cannot be dismissed.


With respect to the committee’s task to “explicitly consider the risks of terrorist attacks on [spent fuel] and the risk these materials might be used to construct a radiological dispersal device,” the committee offers the following findings and recommendations:

FINDING 2A: The probability of terrorist attacks on spent fuel storage cannot be assessed quantitatively or comparatively. Spent fuel storage facilities cannot be dismissed as targets for such attacks because it is not possible to predict the behavior and motivations of terrorists, and because of the attractiveness of spent fuel as a terrorist target given the well-known public dread of radiation.

Terrorists view nuclear power plant facilities as desirable targets because of the large inventories of radionuclides they contain. The committee believes that knowledgeable terrorists might choose to attack spent fuel pools because (1) at U.S. commercial power plants, these pools are less well protected structurally than reactor cores; and (2) they typically contain inventories of medium- and long-lived radionuclides that are several times greater than those contained in individual reactor cores.

FINDING 2B: The committee judges that the likelihood terrorists could steal enough spent fuel for use in a significant radiological dispersal device is small.

Spent fuel assemblies in pools or dry casks are large, heavy, and highly radioactive. They are too large and radioactive to be handled by a single individual. Removal of an assembly from the pool or dry cask would prove extremely difficult under almost any terrorist attack scenario. Attempts by a knowledgeable insider(s) to remove single rods and related debris from the pool might prove easier, but it would likely be very difficult to get it out of the plant under normal operating conditions. Theft and removal during an assault on the plant might be easier because the guard force would likely be occupied defending the plant. However, the amount of material that could be removed would be small. Moreover, there are other facilities from which highly radioactive material could be more easily stolen, and this material also can be purchased. Even though the likelihood of spent fuel theft appears to be small, it is nevertheless important that the protection of these materials be maintained and improved as vulnerabilities are identified.

RECOMMENDATION: The Nuclear Regulatory Commission should review and upgrade, where necessary, its security requirements for protecting spent fuel rods not contained in fuel assemblies from theft by knowledgeable insiders, especially in facilities where individual fuel rods or portions of rods are being stored in pools.

FINDING 2C: A number of security improvements at nuclear power plants have been instituted since the events of September 11, 2001. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission did not provide the committee with enough information to evaluate the effectiveness of these procedures for protecting stored spent fuel.

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