Analysis on the Potential Implications of a Terrorist Attack at U.S. Spent Nuclear Fuel Storage Facilities
Favret, Derek Joe
Since September 11, 2001, the safety and security of the U.S. nuclear reactor complex has become a topic of controversy. Due to the safety features afforded to reactor vessels, most experts agree that the focus should be directed toward the lesser-protected spent fuel pools. Although designed with overlapping safety systems in structures that will withstand a variety of natural events, the ever-increasing fission product inventory in U.S. spent fuel pools may make them targets for terrorists. Some groups postulate that a terrorist attack, creating a zirconium fire in a spent fuel pool, would release levels of radionuclides much greater than released at Chernobyl. Utilizing HPAC and RESRAD modeling codes, the potential zirconium fire release are presented with a study of the resulting human health effects as comparable to the Chernobyl accident. Under study conditions, the activity of radionuclides released were generally similar to Chernobyl. Additionally, dose estimates in the contaminated areas suggest manageable long-term cancer risks. Overall, the results of this study indicate that, although significant, the effects of a zirconium fire in a spent fuel pool, as predicted by others, may be overstated.