The issues to be addressed by this study are specified in the Energy and Water Development Conference Report and are as follows:
that the remaining younger fuel be rearranged in the pool to allow more space for cooling (see also Marsh and Stanford, 2001; Thompson, 2003). The Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff, the nuclear industry, and some others have argued that densely packed pool storage can be carried out both safely and securely (USNRC, 2003a).
Policy actions to improve the safety and security of spent fuel storage could have significant national consequences. Nuclear power plants generate approximately 20 percent of the electricity produced in the United States. The issue of its future availability and use is critical to our nation’s present and future energy security. The safety and security of spent fuel storage is an Important aspect of the acceptability of nuclear power. Decisions that affect such a large portion of our nation’s electricity supply must be considered carefully, wisely, and with a balanced view.
1.2 STRATEGY TO ADDRESS THE STUDY CHARGES
Congress directed the National Academies to produce a classified report that addresses the statement of task shown in Box 1.1 within 6 months and an unclassified summary for unlimited public dissemination within 12 months. This report, which has undergone a security review by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and found to contain no classified national security or safeguards information, fulfills the second request.4
The National Research Council of the National Academies appointed a committee of 15 experts to carry out this study. Biographical sketches of the committee members are provided in Appendix B. The committee met six times from February to June 2004 to gather information and complete its classified report. The committee met again in August, October, and November 2004 and in January 2005 to develop this public report.
Details on the information-gathering sessions and speakers are provided in Appendix A. Most of the information-gathering sessions were not open to the public because they involved presentations and discussions of classified information. The committee recognized, however, that important contributions to this study could be made by industry representatives, independent analysts, and the public, so it scheduled open, unclassified
sessions at three of its meetings to obtain comments from interested organizations and individuals. Public comments at these meetings were encouraged and considered.
Subgroups of the committee visited several nuclear power plants to learn first-hand how spent fuel is being managed in wet and dry storage: the Dresden and Braidwood Nuclear Generating Stations in Illinois, which are owned and operated by Exelon Nuclear Corp.; the Indian Point Nuclear Generating Station in New York, which is owned and operated by ENTERGY Corp.; and the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station in Arizona, which is operated by Arizona Public Service Corp. A subgroup of committee members also traveled to Germany to visit spent fuel storage installations at Ahaus and Lingen and to talk with experts about the safety and security of German spent fuel storage. The German government has been concerned about security for a long time, and the German nuclear industry has made adjustments to spent fuel storage designs and operations that reduce their vulnerability to accidents and terrorist attacks. A summary of the trip to Germany is provided in Appendix C,
The statement of task for this study directed the committee to examine both the safety and the security of spent fuel storage. It is important to recognize that these are two sides of the same coin in the sense that any event that results in the breach of a spent fuel pool or a dry cask, whether accidental or intentional, has the potential to release radioactive material to the environment. The committee therefore focused its limited time on understanding two issues: (1) Under what circumstances could poots or casks be breached? And (2) what would be the radioactive releases from such breaches?
The initiating events that could lead to the accidental breach of a spent fuel pool are well known: A large seismic event or the accidental drop of a cask on the pool wall that could lead to the loss of pool coolant. The condition that could lead to an accidental breach of a dry storage cask is similarly well known: an accidental drop of the cask during handling operations. Current Nuclear Regulatory Commission regulations are designed to prevent such accidental conditions by imposing requirements on the design and operation of spent fuel storage facilities. These regulations have been in place for decades and have so far been effective in preventing accidental releases of radioactive materials from these facilities into the environment.
The initiating events that could lead to the intentional breach of a spent fuel pool or dry storage cask are not as well understood. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has had long-standing requirements in place to deal with radiological sabotage (included in the “design basis threat”; see Chapter 2), but the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks provided a graphic demonstration of a much broader array of potential threats. As described in the following chapters, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is currently sponsoring studies to better understand the potential consequences of such terrorist attacks on spent fuel storage facilities.
Early on in this study, the committee made a judgment that it should focus most of its attention concerning such initiating events on the security aspects of its task statement. Many of the phenomena that follow an initiating event (e.g., loss of pool coolant or cask breach) would be the same whether it arose from an accident or terrorist attack, as noted previously. While the mitigation strategies for such events might be similar, they would require different kinds of preparation.
Given the relatively short time frame for this study, the committee focused its efforts
on performing a critical review of the security analyses that have been carried out by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Its contractors, the Department of Homeland Security, industry (i.e., EPRI, formerly named the Electric Power Research Institute; ENTERGY Corp.; and dry cask vendors), and other independent experts to determine if they are objective, complete, and credible. The committee could only perform limited independent safety and security analyses based on the information it gathered.
The committee made many requests for information from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, its Sandia National Laboratories contractor, and other organizations and individuals, often with little advance notice. For the most part, all parties responded well to these requests. The committee was able to access experts who could answer its technical questions and was pleased with the cooperation and information it received during its visits to spent fuel storage facilities. This cooperation was essential in enabling the committee to complete its task within the requested six-month timeframe,
The committee was forced to circumscribe some aspects of its examinations, however, due to time and/or information constraints. In particular, the committee did not pursue in-depth examinations of the following topics:
Human factors issues involved in responding to terrorist attacks on spent fuel storage. These include surveillance activities to identify potential threats (both inside and outside the plant); the response of security forces; and the preparation of plant personnel to deploy mitigative measures in the event of an attack.
The behavior of radioactive material after it enters the environment from a spent fuel pool or dry cask. The committee assumed that any large release of radioactivity from a spent fuel storage facility would be problematic even in the absence of knowledge of how it would disperse in the environment. The committee instead focused its efforts on understanding how much radioactive material would be released, if any, in the case of an attack.
The economic consequences of potential terrorist attacks, except insofar as noting the possible magnitude of cleanup costs after a catastrophic release of radioactivity.
The costs of potential measures to mitigate spent fuel storage vulnerabilities. The committee understands that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission would include cost-benefit considerations in decisions to impose any new requirements on industry for such measures.
The committee also did not examine the potential vulnerability of commercial spent fuel while being transported. That topic is not only outside of the committee’s task, but there is another National Academies study currently underway to examine transportation issues.5
Because most of the studies on spent fuel storage vulnerabilities undertaken for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission are still in progress, the committee was not able to review completed technical documents. Instead, the committee had to rely on presentations by and discussions with technical experts. The committee does not believe that these difficulties prevented it from developing sound findings and recommendations from the information it
Committee on Transportation of Radioactive Waste. See http://nationalacademies.org/transportofradwaste. That committee’s final report is now planned for completion in the late summer of 2005.