But the recent Fukushima multiple meltdowns may have already altered this line of thinking, says the "US-Russia Joint Threat Assessment on Nuclear Terrorism," which include former CIA officials, Russian nuclear specialists, and nuclear proliferation experts as authors.
“With today’s high levels of nuclear safety dependent on the high reliability of components such as cooling systems, what can happen as a result of an accident can also happen as a result of a premeditated action," the report says.
While most of the report focuses on continued trafficking in nuclear material and the need to lock down vulnerable nuclear sites, it also confirms what nuclear-power watchdog groups in the US have been saying for months – that Fukushima demonstrated an acute vulnerability that could be exploited at US reactor sites.
Pools of circulating water that cool spent fuel such as at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, where the spent-fuel pool belonging to its No. 4 reactor lost power to its cooling system, resulting in the water boiling off and a spent-fuel fire that released radiation directly into the atmosphere, could be an attractive a target, the report adds.
At least 28 reactors in the US have designs similar to the Fukushima plant, where spent-fuel pools are suspended near the ceiling of the reactor building. For as long as their cooling systems are working, such pools, when loaded with spent fuel, are safe.
The data from the Nuclear Energy Institute cited in a recent report by the non-partisan Institute for Policy Studies reveals that currently, some 65,000 metric tons of spent fuel is stored at reactor sites around the U.S., 75 percent of it in US spent-fuel pools.
Some 30 million such rods are stored in spent-fuel pools at 51 sites around the country that "contain some of the largest concentrations of radioactivity on the planet," the report said.
The rods are usually kept in tightly packed racks submerged in pool water, which requires a steady flow of electricity to keep water circulating and the rods from overheating. If water drains from a spent-fuel pool, it can lead to a catastrophic fire that emits dangerous radioactive elements like Cesium 137.
What's difficult to understand is the fact that the US does not mandate backup power for cooling systems to the pools.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has said the pools are safe.
Yeah, right. Sweeping statements such as this coming from NRC are exactly the main ingredient to a disaster.