Used Nuclear Fuel Needs a Security Boost

Wednesday, May 11, 2011 @ 03:05 PM gHale

Security for used nuclear fuel stored in steel and concrete containers needs to step up, according to a new report by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) Inspector General.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has no central database of security-related information for dry cask storage, and does not have a comprehensive document outlining the roles and responsibilities of staff, according to the inspector general’s report. Regional offices also use different groups of employees to monitor dry-cask installations, so there is no forum for communication, the report said.

“This could negatively impact NRC’s mission to ensure adequate protection of public health and safety, promote the common defense and security, and protect the environment,” according to the report.

Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, NRC conducted a review of its security policies and procedures, including those related to spent fuel storage. The NRC recognized the need to examine assumptions underlying nuclear facility security and safeguards programs and embarked upon a comprehensive review of these programs.

While the NRC has improved its oversight of Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installations (ISFSI) security, and the agency has not experienced any problems, inspector general found following areas to enhance security:
• Define key ISFSI security office roles and responsibilities.
• Update the ISFSI security inspection procedure.
• Train inspectors assigned to assess ISFSI security.
• Develop a centralized database of ISFSI security-related information.

The Inspector General acknowledges the agency’s post-September 11, 2001, categorization of ISFSIs as a relatively low security risk and its decision to place security resources on higher risk programs; however, making certain basic improvements in program management will facilitate the continued success of ISFSI security and prevent lapses that could occur in the absence of such improvements.

A White House commission is studying alternatives to the storage of commercial nuclear waste after President Barack Obama’s administration scrapped plans for a central repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. Used reactor fuel is now in dry casks at 57 U.S. sites, the May 3 report said. Of those, 47 were at operating reactors.

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