Monday, July 14, 2008

Nuclear Agency Weighs Attack Threat at Plants

Dragged by a federal appeals court into a rare public discussion of the risks that terrorists could attack a nuclear plant, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission heard arguments on Tuesday from a California group that the commission’s staff had overlooked one category of potentially serious attacks.

The commission, determined to dispose of the issue promptly, heard the arguments directly instead of delegating them to administrative law judges, the first time since 1989 that the sitting commissioners have heard such oral arguments.

But the three-hour session was not a revealing one, largely because the lawyer for the commission staff said there were major issues that could not be described in open session without compromising national security.

The commission’s ruling could be important because the spent fuel storage system proposed for the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, near Avila Beach, Calif., is being adopted at scores of other reactor sites around the country because of the Energy Department’s failure to establish a national burial site for used fuel. At issue was whether storage casks that the Pacific Gas and Electric Company wants to build at the Diablo Canyon plant could be hit with incendiary missiles, piercing the steel and concrete shell and lighting the metal cladding of the fuel. If that happened, plant opponents contend, the fire could turn radioactive cesium into a gas, which would float widely with the wind and then resolidify.

The New York Times

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