Nuclear plants are fundamentally insecure for many reasons, including their vulnerability to power disruptions and because of design flaws engineered into their technologies. The NRC, like most (if not all) nuclear agencies, is a captured regulator, exacerbating the fundamental security flaws that endanger us all, as illustrated in the case of the Pilgrim and Oyster Creek NPPs, which have sought to avoid safety upgrades required after Fukushima:
Pilgrim Requests Extension from NRC for Post Fukushima Order. CapeCod.Com, July 15, 2016, http://www.capecod.com/newscenter/pilgrim-requests-extension-from-nrc-for-post-fukushima-order/
PLYMOUTH – The owner of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station, Entergy, is seeking an extension from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to comply with a post Fukushima order for its boiling-water reactor to have reliable hardened containment vents.
The vents are designed to remove combustible gases after an accident to prevent explosions seen at Fukushima.
The plant is asking for an extension through December 31, 2019 so a permanent plant modification would not be needed as the plant is set to close by June of 2019...
Last year the NRC approved a similar request from the Oyster Creek Nuclear Power Plant in New Jersey for a relaxation of the compliance order. The Oyster Creek facility is also scheduled to close in 2019. The NRC approved Oyster Creek’s request to not install a reliable hardened vent from the plant’s “wetwell,” which is a donut-shaped reservoir of water at the base of the plant....Venting of hydrogen gas after a scram, or quick shut-down, has been a long recognized problem for GE's Mark I reactors.
Two engineers at General Electric resigned in 1975 after concluding that the nuclear reactor designs for the Mark I reactors (built at Fukushima) were fundamentally flawed and dangerous. Boiling water reactors operate with intense pressure and the engineers felt that the design specifications were insufficient for handling pressures that would result from a loss of cooling accident.
One of the engineers, Dale G. Bridenbaugh, explained the GE engineers’ concerns in a recent interview with ABC: ‘The problems we identified in 1975 were that, in doing the design of the containment, they did not take into account the dynamic loads that could be experienced with a loss of coolant . . . The impact loads the containment would receive by this very rapid release of energy could tear the containment apart and create an uncontrolled release.’
‘Fukushima: Mark 1 Nuclear Reactor Design Caused GE Scientist To Quit In Protest’ (15 March 2011), ABC the Blotter, http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/fukushima-mark-nuclear-reactor-design-caused-ge-scientist/story?id=13141287Venting hot gas in the wake of a scram is only one among many challenges to nuclear security.
In my opinion, sustained electrical outages represent one of the most significant risks to nuclear plant operations. Yesterday the Wall Street Journal ran an article about the risks of sustained electricity outages resulting from damage (accidental or deliberate) to the electric grid:
Rebecca Smith. July 14, 2016. How America Could Go Dark: Dozens of break-ins examined by The Wall Street Journal show how orders to secure the power grid have still left tens of thousands of utility substations vulnerable to terrorist saboteurs. The Wall Street Journal, http://www.wsj.com/articles/how-america-could-go-dark-1468423254
The U.S. electric system is in danger of widespread blackouts lasting days, weeks or longer through the destruction of sensitive, hard-to-replace equipment. Yet records are so spotty that no government agency can offer an accurate tally of substation attacks, whether for vandalism, theft or more nefarious purposes.
Most substations are unmanned and often protected chiefly by chain-link fences. Many have no electronic security, leaving attacks unnoticed until after the damage is done. Even if there are security cameras, they often prove worthless. In some cases, alarms are simply ignored....
...A 2012 report from the National Research Council of the National Academies of Sciences looked at different parts of the electric system and concluded that substations were “the most vulnerable to terrorist attack.”...
...Most utilities are reluctant to spend money on security unless under government orders. They must justify their expenses to regulatory agencies to pass on the costs to ratepayers, said John Kassakian, an emeritus professor of electrical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Sustained electrical outages lasting more than 3-5 days (the amount of time generators are expected to run with fuel on hand) would very likely result in cooling failures that could lead to meltdowns and spent fuel pool fires.
Spent fuel pools have been long acknowledged to pose significant dangers in nuclear emergencies because they contain tons and tons of highly reactive spent fuel rods that give off heat and therefore must be cooled constantly. A 2003 study of the hazards of spent fuel pools notes these dangers:
R. Alvarez, J. Beyea, K. Janberg, J. Kang, E. Lyman, A. Macfarlane, G. Thompson, and F. von Hippel (2003) ‘Reducing the Hazards from Stored Spent Power-Reactor Fuel in the United States’, Science and Global Security, 11.1, 1–51.[spent fuel] "recently discharged from a reactor could heat up relatively rapidly to temperatures at which the zircaloy fuel cladding could catch fire and the fuel’s volatile fission products, including 30-year half-life 137Cs, would be released. The fire could well spread to older spent fuel. The long-term land-contamination consequences of such an event could be significantly worse than those from Chernobyl":
These dangers were also documented in a 2005 report by the National Academy of Sciences. The radioactive contamination from fuel pools is so threatening because of the volume of fuel and the lack of containment.
Nuclear insecurity far outweighs nuclear security and I've not yet even touched on the problems of ongoing environmental contamination from tritium and krypton-85 and the long-term issues posted by nuclear waste management.
Nuclear energy is a flawed technocratic dream that can turn suddenly into a deadly nightmare beyond human control.