WASHINGTON – A classified report by nuclear experts assembled by the National Academy of Sciences has challenged the decision by federal regulators to allow commercial nuclear facilities to store large quantities of radioactive spent fuel in pools of water.
The report concluded that the government does not fully understand the risks that a terrorist attack could pose to the pools and ought to expedite the removal of the fuel to dry storage casks that are more resilient to attack. The Bush administration has long defended the safety of the pools, and the nuclear industry has warned that moving large amounts of fuel to dry storage would be unnecessary and very expensive.
The report was requested by Congress after Sept 11, 2001, as homeland security officials sought to understand the potential consequences of a large-scale attack on a nuclear facility.
Because it is classified, the contents of the report were not made public when it was delivered to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) last summer. Even a stripped-down, declassified version has remained under wraps since November because the commission says it contains sensitive information.
However, the commission made excerpts of the report public when Chairman Nils Diaz sent a letter to Congress on March 14 rebutting some of the academy’s concerns. His letter also suggested the academy had largely backed the government’s views about the safety of existing fuel storage systems.
William Colglazier, executive officer for the academy, said the letter was misleading and warned that the public needs to learn about the findings.
Although the commission said it is keeping the report under wraps for security reasons, some officials who have seen the document suggest the NRC is suppressing embarrassing criticism.
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