WASHINGTON (CN) – The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has seriously underestimated the risk of a terrorist attack on large pools of spent nuclear fuel, according to the attorneys general of California and Massachusetts, whose petitions to change the status quo in their states have been denied.
The reason the pools are dangerous, the petitions explain, is that if they are drained, the zirconium coating the fuel assemblies is exposed to air, which can cause it to heat up and ignite. Lethal levels of radiation escaping would prevent normal suppression methods for such a fire, the petition continues, leaving it to burn itself out, releasing potentially all of the stored radioactive isotopes and creating an environmental disaster.
The NRC found that the petitions to change the current regulations lacked new or significant information, that the probability of an attack leading to a fire is infinitesimal, and that spent fuel pool design standards have been raised to account for intentional sabotage.
In an unusual dissenting vote, Commissioner Jackzo objected to the NRC having to choose between granting and denying petitions when the data introduced by the states could be reviewed as the agency updates the Generic Environmental Impact Statement for License Renewal, which will happen in the near future.
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