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The risks of a catastrophic spent nuclear fuel fire near the Persian Gulf.

How to reduce the risk of a catastrophic spent nuclear fuel fire near the Persian Gulf, Bulletin, By Tara BurchmoreTom SpenceAli Ahmad | October 6, 2021 
 The 2021 operational launch of two reactors at the Barakah power plant in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE) demonstrates the growth of nuclear energy in the Middle East. Over the next two years, there will be five reactors operating in the Persian Gulf­—four reactors at Barakah and Iran’s Bushehr reactor, which has been running since 2013. If Iran and Saudi Arabia fulfill their proposed plans to build new nuclear reactors, the number will rise to at least eight reactors in the gulf by 2030.

There are many reasons for concern about the safety of nuclear facilities in the gulf. Particularly in the region where Bushehr is located, Iran is prone to seismic activity. The UAE has limited experience in operating nuclear facilities. And terrorist groups have identified energy infrastructure as a key target—and even attacked nuclear installations.

It is in this context we raise an alarm about the possibility of a severe nuclear accident in the gulf, driven by a fire in one of the spent nuclear fuel pools of the Bushehr or Barakah power plants. As we explain in detail in our recent paper in Science and Global Security, the local and possibly global economic implications of such an accident are huge.

Since the Fukushima Daiichi disaster more than a decade ago and the “near miss” catastrophe of a fire at the unit 4 spent fuel pool, higher attention has been given to the long-overlooked risks of such densely packed pools, which typically have less fortified containment than a reactor core but may contain much larger amounts of radioactivity. Frank von Hippel and his colleagues have since produced important analyses revising the risks of spent nuclear fuel fires and highlighting their human and economic costs.

Cities at risk. In our paper, we modelled what might happen if a spent nuclear fuel fire was to start at either the Barakah or Bushehr nuclear power plants, using an atmospheric modeling program to simulate how the plume of radioactive smoke from the fire would spread over the gulf region based on probable weather patterns.

Based on thousands of dispersion simulations using real historical weather data, the results show that several major cities in the gulf region could be contaminated by cesium 137 fallout if a spent fuel fire occurred at Barakah or Bushehr. The cities at the highest risk from fires at Barakah are those centered around the Gulf of Bahrain: Doha, Manama, Dammam, and al-Hofuf…………………………

Recommendations. The safest way to mitigate the risk of spent nuclear fuel fires in the Persian Gulf region would be to end the deployment of nuclear energy in the Middle East and rely instead on the region’s natural gas and renewable energy resources. This, of course, will not happen.

However, risks can be reduced by not adding new nuclear capacity beyond what is currently built. Additionally, governments could reduce risks by timely transfer of spent fuel into dry cask storage and ultimately into geological storage, limiting the dense packing of spent fuel pools. Iran has agreed to transfer Bushehr’s spent nuclear fuel to Russia and could seek to do so as soon as it has cooled sufficiently. States also should work to prevent attacks on nuclear facilities. One model could be a multilateral arrangement similar to the bilateral one reached between India and Pakistan. Finally, gulf states should bolster their emergency preparedness and management plans for nuclear accidents and incidents involving potential radiation release in the region.

October 7, 2021 - Posted by | MIDDLE EAST, safety

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