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Published: Thursday, 4/7/2005

Panel: Nuclear waste vulnerable to terror attack


WASHINGTON - Determined terrorists could crash an airliner into radioactive waste stored at nuclear power plants and release large amounts of radioactive material, a National Academy of Science panel warned yesterday in a report requested by Congress.

An industry trade group claimed such an attack would be highly unlikely.

Used fuel rods are stored in cooling pools at all 65 nuclear power plant locations in 31 states. In all, 70,000 tons of spent fuel is stored at the plants.

The Committee on the Safety and Security of Commercial Spent Nuclear Fuel Storage said that "relatively simple measures," such as installing backup cooling systems or distributing the highly radioactive used fuel rods differently, would "significantly reduce the risk."

It recommended that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission make a plant-by-plant vulnerability study to determine what steps are needed to make the used fuel more secure. It also recommended that an organization "independent of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the nuclear industry" should assess current security and surveillance measures at power plants.

The cooling ponds for spend rods at the two lcoal nuclear power plants, Davis-Besse and Fermi, are in secured areas of the plants.

The committee also concluded that "it would be difficult" for terrorists to steal enough spent fuel from storage facilities to build a "dirty bomb."

But in a telephone news conference, Louis Lanzerotti, chairman of the 16-member committee, said the panel had concluded that some of the attack scenarios it considered "were well within means of capable and determined terrorists, certainly easier than Sept. 11."

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