NOTE TO READERS
This report is based on a classified report that was developed at the request of the U.S. Congress with sponsorship from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Department of Homeland Security. This report contains all of the findings and recommendations that appear in the classified report. Some have been slightly reworded and other sensitive information that might allow terrorists to exploit potential vulnerabilities has been redacted to protect national security. Nevertheless, the National Research Council and the authoring committee believe that this report provides an accurate summary of the classified report, including its findings and recommendations
The authoring committee for this report examined the potential consequences of a large number of scenarios for attacking spent fuel storage facilities at commercial nuclear power plants. Some of these scenarios were developed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission as part of its ongoing vulnerability analyses, whereas others were developed by the committee based upon the expertise of its members or suggestions from participants at the committee’s open meetings. The committee focused its discussions about terrorist attacks on the concept of maximum credible scenarios. These are defined by the committee to be physically realistic classes of attacks that, if carried out successfully, would produce the most serious potential consequences within that class. In a practical sense they can be said to bound the consequences for a given type of attack. Such scenarios could in some cases be very difficult to carry out because they require a high level of skill and knowledge or luck on the part of the attackers, It was nevertheless useful to analyze these scenarios because they provide decision makers with a better understanding of the full range of potential consequences from terrorist attacks.
The committee uses the term potential consequences advisedly. It is important to recognize that a terrorist attack on a spent fuel storage facility would not necessarily result in the release of any radioactivity to the environment. The consequences of such an attack would depend not only on the nature of the attack itself, but also on the construction of the spent fuel storage facility; its location relative to surrounding features that might shield it from the attack; and the ability of the guards and operators at the facility to respond to the attack and/or mitigate its consequences. Facility-specific analyses are required to determine the potential vulnerability of a given facility to a given type of terrorist attack.
Congress asked the National Research Council for technical advice related to the vulnerability of spent fuel storage facilities to terrorist attacks. Congress, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the Department of Homeland Security are responsible for translating this advice into policy actions. This will require the balancing of costs, risks, and benefits across the nation’s industrial infrastructure. The committee was not asked to examine the potential vulnerabilities of other types of infrastructure to terrorist attacks or the consequences of such attacks. While such comparisons will likely be difficult, they will be essential for ensuring that the nation’s limited resources are used judiciously in protecting its citizens from terrorist attacks.