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Suggested Citation:"3.3.3 Discussion." National Research Council. 2006. Safety and Security of Commercial Spent Nuclear Fuel Storage: Public Report. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11263.
  • If there is sufficient space in the pool, empty slots can also be arranged to promote natural air convection in a complete-loss-of-pool-coolant event. The cask loading area in some pools may serve this purpose if it is in communication with the rest of the pool.

  • Preinstalled emergency water makeup systems in spent fuel pools would provide a mechanism to replace pool water in the event of a coolant loss.

  • Preinstalled water spray systems above or within the pool could also be used to cool the fuel in a loss-of-pool-coolant event.20 The committee carried out a simple aggregate calculation suggesting that a water spray of about 50 to 60 gallons (about 190 to 225 liters) per minute for the whole pool would likely be adequate to prevent a zirconium cladding fire in a loss-of-pool-coolant event. A simple, low-pressure spray distribution experiment could verify what distribution of coolant would be sufficient to cool a spent fuel pool. Such a system would have to be designed to function even if the spent fuel pool or building were severely damaged in an attack.21

  • Limiting full-core offloads to situations when such offloads are required would reduce the decay heat load in the pool during routine refueling outages. Alternatively, delaying the offload of fuel to the pool after a reactor shutdown would reduce the decay-heat load in the pool.

  • The walls of spent fuel pools could be reinforced to prevent damage that could lead to a loss-of-pool-coolant event.

  • Security levels at the plant could be increased during outages that involve core offloads.

Of course, damage to the pool and high radiation fields could make It difficult to take some of these mitigative measures. Multiple redundant and diverse measures may be required so that more than one remedy is available to mitigate a loss-of-pool-coolant event, especially when access to the pool is limited by damage or high radiation fields. Cost considerations might be significant, particularly for measures such as installing hardened spray systems and lengthening refueling outages, but the committee did not examine the costs of these measures.

3.3.3 Discussion

The Sandia and ENTERGY analyses described in this chapter were still in progress when the committee completed its classified report. As noted previously, draft technical documents describing the work were not available at the time this study was being completed. Consequently, the committee’s understanding of these analyses is based on briefing materials (i.e., PowerPoint slides) presented before the committee by Nuclear


There is an extensive analytic and experimental experience base confirming that spray systems are effective in providing emergency core cooling in BWR reactor cores, which generate much more decay heat than spent fuel. Detailed experiments have shown that some minimum amount of water must be delivered on top of each assembly, and if that is provided, the assembly will be cooled adequately even if there is significant blockage of the cooling channels.


ENTERGY staff mentioned the possible use of a specially equipped fire engine to provide spray cooling. The committee does not know whether this would deliver sufficient spray cooling where it is needed or would provide sufficient protection if terrorists are attempting to prevent emergency response, but the strategy is worth further examination.

Suggested Citation:"3.3.3 Discussion." National Research Council. 2006. Safety and Security of Commercial Spent Nuclear Fuel Storage: Public Report. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11263.

Regulatory Commission and ENTERGY staff and consultants, discussions with these experts, and the committee’s own expert judgment,

The committee judges that these analyses provide a start for understanding the behavior of spent fuel pools in severe environments. The analyses were carried out by qualified experts using well-known analytical methods and engineering codes to model system behaviors. Although this is a start, the analyses have important limitations.

The aircraft attack scenarios consider one type of aircraft. Heavier aircraft could be used in such attacks. These planes are in common use in passenger and/or cargo operations, and some of these planes can be chartered.

Equally limiting assumptions were made in the analyses of spent fuel pool thermal behavior. To make the analysis tractable, it was assumed that the fuel in the pool was in an undamaged condition when the loss-of-pool-coolant event occurred. This is not necessarily a valid assumption. Whether such damage would change the outcome of the analyses described in this chapter is unknown.

Simplistic modeling assumptions were made about the fuel assembly geometry (e.g., individual fuel bundles were not modeled in the global effects calculation), convective cooling flow paths and mechanisms, thermal radiation heat transfer, propagation of cladding fires to low-power bundles, and radioactivity release mechanisms. In addition, flow blockage due to fission-gas-induced clad ballooning22 was not considered. The thermal analysis experts on the committee judge that these simplistic assumptions could produce results that are more severe (i.e., overconservative) than would be the case had more realistic assumptions been used.

More sophisticated models, which involve clad ballooning and detailed thermal-hydraulics, including radiative heat transfer, have been developed for the analysis of severe in-core accidents. These models can be evaluated using more powerful computers. MELCOR appears to have sufficient capability to evaluate more sophisticated models of the spent fuel pool and Sandia has access to large, sophisticated computers. State-of-the-art calculations of this type are needed for the analysis of spent fuel pools so that more informed regulatory decisions can be made.

The analyses also do not consider the possibility of an attack that ejects spent fuel from the pool. The ejection of freshly discharged spent fuel from the pool might lead to a zirconium cladding fire if immediate mitigative actions could not be taken. The application of such measures could be hindered by the high radiation fields around the fuel.

While the committee judges that some attacks involving aircraft would be feasible to carry out, it can provide no assessment of the probability of such attacks. Nevertheless, analyzing their consequences is useful for informing policy decisions on steps to be taken to protect these facilities from terrorist attack.


If a fuel rod reaches relatively high temperatures, the gases inside can cause the cladding to balloon out, restricting and even blocking coolant flow through the spaces between the rods within the assembly.

Suggested Citation:"3.3.3 Discussion." National Research Council. 2006. Safety and Security of Commercial Spent Nuclear Fuel Storage: Public Report. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11263.
Page 55
Suggested Citation:"3.3.3 Discussion." National Research Council. 2006. Safety and Security of Commercial Spent Nuclear Fuel Storage: Public Report. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11263.
Page 56
Safety and Security of Commercial Spent Nuclear Fuel Storage: Public Report Get This Book
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In response to a request from Congress, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Department of Homeland Security sponsored a National Academies study to assess the safety and security risks of spent nuclear fuel stored in cooling pools and dry casks at commercial nuclear power plants. The information provided in this book examines the risks of terrorist attacks using these materials for a radiological dispersal device. Safety and Security of Commercial Spent Nuclear Fuel is an unclassified public summary of a more detailed classified book. The book finds that successful terrorist attacks on spent fuel pools, though difficult, are possible. A propagating fire in a pool could release large amounts of radioactive material, but rearranging spent fuel in the pool during storage and providing emergency water spray systems would reduce the likelihood of a propagating fire even under severe damage conditions. The book suggests that additional studies are needed to better understand these risks. Although dry casks have advantages over cooling pools, pools are necessary at all operating nuclear power plants to store at least the recently discharged fuel. The book explains it would be difficult for terrorists to steal enough spent fuel to construct a significant radiological dispersal device.

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