Language Selection

English French German Italian Portuguese Spanish

US nuclear waste could provide terror target

Filed under
Security

A large cloud of lethal radioactive fallout could be released by a terrorist attack on the nuclear waste stored at up to 103 reactors in the US, according to an expert report for the US National Academy of Sciences (NAS).

The cooling ponds in which spent radioactive fuel is kept could be severely damaged by crashing aircraft, high-powered weapons or explosives, the report says. With the water draining away, the fuel cladding, made of a zirconium alloy, would overheat and burst into flames.

This "could release large quantities of radioactive material into the environment", the report concludes. It was compiled by a committee of 15 leading scientists from universities, research institutes and consultancies in response to a request from the US Congress.

"Our findings were unanimous," says committee chair, Louis Lanzerotti, from the New Jersey Institute of Technology. "The committee identified several terrorist attack scenarios that could have potentially severe consequences."

The NAS was asked to investigate the issue after a report by nuclear critics in 2003 suggested that an attack on a cooling pond could release more radioactivity than the Chernobyl reactor accident in Ukraine in 1986. Such a release would cause thousands of deaths from cancer, the critics claimed.

Although their worrying claims were rejected by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the nuclear industry at the time, they have now been backed by the NAS report. "The committee judges that some of their release estimates should not be dismissed," it says.

Under water over ground

Members of the NAS committee, however, cannot say precisely how many of the 12-metre-deep cooling ponds are at risk. Those at the 34 boiling water reactors in the US might be more vulnerable because they are located above the ground under thin steel covers. The ponds at 69 pressurised water reactors are at ground level.

The dangers at each individual plant should now be analysed, the NAS report says, and it might be "prudent" to move some waste into dry
stores. It also recommends urgent action, including reducing the risks by installing heavy-duty water sprinklers to provide back-up cooling.

The NAS published a declassified version of its report on 6 April after an argument with the NRC over what could be made public without helping terrorists. The NRC is criticised in the report for undermining public confidence by withholding information on the vulnerability of spent fuel ponds.

"Unreasonable" scenarios

In a letter to Congress on 14 March, the NRC said that some of the scenarios in the NAS report were "unreasonable", and some of its recommendations "lacked a sound technical basis". Nevertheless, in a statement on 6 April, it described the report as "important" and said it was giving its recommendations "serious consideration".

Since the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001, the NRC pointed out it had issued "no fewer than nine sets of mandatory instructions or guidance to nuclear plant operators to improve security of nuclear power plants, including spent fuel in storage".

But the NRC was accused of being "obstructive" by Frank von Hippel, from Princeton University in New Jersey, and one of the authors of the 2003 report which first raised the alarm. "The commission needs to be restored as a regulatory agency not cowed by the nuclear industry," he told New Scientist.

"Whatever the chances of an attack on the spent fuel pools, the NAS study shows that we've not taken all reasonable precautions to mitigate its consequences," adds David Lochbaum, a nuclear safety engineer from the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington DC. "Those steps must be taken."

Source.

More in Tux Machines

Most popular web browsers among Fedora users

Google Chrome is the most popular browser in the world. It is so popular that some call it a new Internet Explorer. But that’s based on global stats. In Red Hat, I’m responsible for web browsers, so I wondered what are the most popular web browsers among Fedora users. So I asked through Fedora accounts on Facebook and Google+: “Which browser do you use the most in Fedora?” Read more

Life in a Post-Container World and Why Linux Will Play a Diminished Role

Containers have actually been with us since the late 1990s, but they are not the end of the story. The real transformation will come with a “serverless” future that will completely overturn the ops ecosystem. Companies will go out of business, new ones will spring to life, and thousands of people will have fundamental changes to their jobs. The shift to a serverless future is much bigger than your normal hype cycle — I believe the current container hoopla is a foreshock preceding a 9.0 quake. Read more

FFmpeg's Leader Resigns, Hopes To Make Libav Developers Come Back

Michael Niedermayer, the leader of the FFmpeg project for the past eleven years, has made a surprise announcement today: he's resigning as its leader. Niedermayer is resigning as he no longer feels he's the best leader for FFmpeg, given the current Libav fork still persisting even after Debian dropped Libav and is returning to FFmpeg. Read more

30 Sys Admins to Follow on SysAdmin Day

Systems administrators: They keep our high-tech world up and running. From capacity planning, to 3 a.m. phone calls, to retiring that 10-year-old server that uses more power than your whole house, sys admins do it all. Open source communities would not be able to thrive without the networks, services, and tools that allow for communication and collaboration, and sys admins are the ones who work thanklessly year-round to keep them going. July 31 is System Administrator Appreciation Day, a day for all of us to express our undying gratitude for sys admins. Sure, you could buy your favorite sys admin cake and ice cream, or perhaps a nice gift card. You could even go as far as not breaking the server for just one day. You also can follow these 30 sys admins. Read more