More powerful guns may guard spent nuclear fuel via fuel fix

LIMERICK, Pa. — Machine guns may be coming to a nuclear plant near you.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has proposed a rule that would allow security guards to wield machine guns and “enhanced weapons” to guard spent fuel rods being stored at nuclear power plants.

The cost of the weapons upgrade, training and background checks envisioned in the NRC rule could cost the industry between $26.5 million and $34.7 million, according to NRC estimates.
“Limerick has 1,143 metric tons of uranium spent fuel on site. At Limerick, the waste is stored above the ground in pools and in casks. It is 20 feet above the groundwater, and it is on the Schuylkill River, which is 40 miles from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. That is where we currently store high-level nuclear waste.”

That was how Illinois Republican Representative John Shimku described Limerick’s spent fuel in a July 19, 2012 speech on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, during which he took Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to task for blocking the establishment of a national nuclear waste depository under Yucca Mountain in Nevada, the state Reid represents in the Senate.

According to the Congressional Research Service (using data from the industry-aligned Nuclear Energy Institute), there were 62,683 metric tons of commercial spent fuel accumulated in the United States as of the end of 2009, the NRC reported.

Of that total, 48,818 metric tons — or about 78 percent — were in pools. 13,856 metric tons — or about 22 percent — were stored in dry casks.The total increases by 2,000 to 2,400 tons annually.
“In contrast to the large amount of fuel in a single spent fuel pool, each dry cask only holds 10 to 15 tons of spent fuel, or only a few percent of a typical spent fuel pool. Thus, it would require safety failures at many dry casks to produce the scale of radiological release that could result from a safety failure at one spent fuel pool,” the Union of Concerned Scientists wrote.

“Likewise, terrorists would have to break open many dry casks to release as much radioactivity as a single spent fuel pool could release. Therefore, an attack on a dry cask storage area would, in most circumstances, result in a much smaller release of radioactivity than an attack on a storage pool,” according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Arming those guarding these dry cask facilities with more powerful weapons reduces public health risks because better-armed guards have an “increased likelihood of a successful repulsions of an attack,” the NRC wrote in the Jan. 10 Federal Register.

Thus the proposal would make it easier to fend off “radiological sabotage” at 65 nuclear power plant sites, 53 of which have on-site fuel storage areas, according to the NRC filing.

“Exelon generation uses state-of-the-art technology and weaponry as part of its comprehensive strategy to keep our facilities and spent fuel storage facilities safe,” Melia wrote of the Limerick plant. “Limerick’s security officers are full-time Exelon employees, all highly trained paramilitary personnel qualified in force protection and anti-terrorism techniques.”

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2 Responses to More powerful guns may guard spent nuclear fuel via fuel fix

  1. norma field says:

    “Enhanced weapons” to guard spent nuclear fuel sites–that, too, should be calculated into the cost of nuclear energy.
    Then there’s the irony of weapons to protect the by-products of a technology joined at the hip to weapons to begin with.

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