nuclear power plants ARE vulnerable to attack
Terrorists can break through fences by using bolt cutters or using Bangalore torpedoes, a pipe-shaped explosives developed by the British army in India nearly a century ago. The terrorists can blast through outer walls using directed explosives and can get in to the plant. They can use lasers and infrared devices to blind the plant’s cameras, and electronic jammers to paralyze communications of the plant. They would be armed with maps, drawings and details of weak spots in the site’s defenses provided by their agent working in the nuclear plant. Being a suicide mission the terrorists can cause a nuclear meltdown. They can disable specific controls and shut down pumps and operating key valves. A loss-of-coolant accident that results in a meltdown is very easy to create. In 20 minutes, the lethal plume, drifting hundreds of miles downwind, could kill tens of thousands within a year and hundreds of thousands eventually. A city like Mumbai can be easily be laid waste by a four member suicide team. If there are two suicide teams are present the first team can destroy the entry point and the second team can destroy the nuclear power plant or a research reactor complex.
CONTROVERSY continues to dog nuclear waste storage facilities in the US. Despite earlier assurances by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the nuclear industry that the waste is not vulnerable to terrorism, a report by the National Academy of Sciences argues that terrorist attacks on these facilities could result in lethal radioactive fallout. A committee of 15 leading scientists from universities, research institutes and consultancies studied nuclear waste stored in cooling ponds at 103 US reactors. In its report, released publicly on 6 April, the committee argues that the cooling ponds in which spent radioactive fuel is kept could be severely damaged by aircraft, high-powered weapons or explosives.
If the water drained from the cooling ponds, the zirconium alloy fuel cladding would overheat and burst into flames. This “could release large quantities of radioactive material into the environment”, the report concludes. Committee chair Louis Lanzerotti of the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark says, “The committee identified several terrorist attack scenarios that could have potentially severe consequences.” In a letter to Congress the NRC insisted some scenarios were “unreasonable”, and some recommendations “lacked a sound technical basis”. Nevertheless, an NRC statement on 6 April said serious consideration was being given to the recommendations.
nuclear waste could provide terror target
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.
Since the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001, the NRC had issued nine sets of mandatory instructions or guidance to nuclear plant operators to improve security of nuclear power plants, including spent fuel in storage. India’s CANDU power reactors does not meet the 9/11 criteria and Canada has stopped this type of reactors.