Keywords: radiological emergency, spent nuclear fuel, terrorist attacks, zirconium cladding fire, environmental impact, nuclear fuel storage facility, storage security, nuclear reactors, nuclear power, nuclear energy, radioactive contamination, nuclear safety
Environmental impact resulting from a fire at a spent nuclear fuel storage facility
Nuclear power reactors have created a significant quantity of used or spent nuclear fuel elements that contain some remaining nuclear fuel and by products of the fission process that are highly radioactive. Lack of a secure central repository or other permanent disposal process for spent nuclear fuel elements has resulted in long term storage of these elements in spent fuel pools at operating nuclear power plants. A recent review of the safety and security of commercial spent nuclear fuel expressed concern that terrorist activity at a spent nuclear fuel storage pool could result in a zirconium cladding fire that could create widespread radioactive contamination with dramatic impact on both the public and the environment. A scenario based on such an event is presented to demonstrate the potential impact resulting from the release and dispersion of spent fuel products.