More Powerful Guns May Guard Spent Nuclear Fuel

January 23rd, 2013 - by admin

Evan Brandt / The (Pottstown) Mercury & Associated Press – 2013-01-23 00:49:47

LIMERICK, Pa. (AP) January 21, 2013) — Machine guns may be coming to a nuclear plant near you.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has proposed a rule that would allow security guards to wield machine guns and “enhanced weapons” to guard spent fuel rods being stored at nuclear power plants.

The cost of the weapons upgrade, training and background checks envisioned in the NRC rule could cost the industry between $26.5 million and $34.7 million, according to NRC estimates.

The new rule, if made final, could be used by Exelon Nuclear’s Limerick Generating Station to upgrade weaponry if needed, according to NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan.

Any upgrades, and subsequent costs, would be voluntary but in making industry costs estimates “NRC staff assumed that all licensees and certificate holds who fall within the proposed designated classes of facilities would take advantage of making us of enhanced weapons protection,” according to the announced of the proposed rule in the Jan. 10 edition of the Federal Register.

“We can’t provide specific details on the types of weapons our security officers carry or the extent of Exelon’s background investigations (for safeguard reasons),” Dana Melia, communications manager for the nuclear plant, wrote in an e-mail response to a Mercury inquiry.

“But Limerick already receives the highest level of security and protection as mandated by the Nuclear Regulation Commission,” Melia wrote.

She wrote that “the proposed rule would require all US nuclear power plants to subject security personnel to additional background checks. It would also allow nuclear operators to apply for enhanced weaponry if deemed necessary.”

The NRC has been contemplating the enhanced weaponry upgrade in the wake of a law signed by President George W. Bush in 2005, and in 2009 outlined which facilities “could voluntarily apply” for authority to use “an expanded arsenal of weapons, including machine guns and semi-automatic, large-capacity assault weapons.”

But in 2011, “the Commission directed the staff to consider expanding the scope of the current enhanced weapons rule to include at-reactor “spent fuel storage facilities.”

The proposed rule change complies with that direction and would now apply to spent fuel storage facilities as well.

“Spent fuel” is the waste by-product of nuclear fission reactors and is primarily uranium that no longer produces enough heat to produce the steam to run generators, but which remains radioactive for thousands of years.

For decades, the federal government was planning a national spent-fuel storage facility beneath Yucca Mountain, Nev., but President Barrack Obama put that effort on hold during his first term. In the meantime, nuclear plants all over the country have had to hold on to every fuel rod used in their plant since they were commissioned.

At first, they were kept in concrete pools inside the reactor building while the rods continued to cool. But eventually, those pools filled to capacity and plants began building outdoor storage sites, equipped with steel casks inside concrete housings to hold the cooling, radioactive fuel.

Called “dry cask storage,” Limerick’s facility opened in 2007.

“Limerick has 1,143 metric tons of uranium spent fuel on site. At Limerick, the waste is stored above the ground in pools and in casks. It is 20 feet above the groundwater, and it is on the Schuylkill River, which is 40 miles from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. That is where we currently store high-level nuclear waste.”

That was how Illinois Republican Representative John Shimku described Limerick’s spent fuel in a July 19, 2012 speech on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, during which he took Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to task for blocking the establishment of a national nuclear waste depository under Yucca Mountain in Nevada, the state Reid represents in the Senate.

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