Study: Hit by plane won't hurt reactors


Published: Tuesday, April 1, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, March 31, 2003 at 10:23 p.m.
Although the war in Iraq dominates the news, the war on terrorism is continuing and its origin has not been forgotten.
The image of airliners crashing into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a remote field are indelible.
Those images motivated a nuclear energy industry group to analyze what would happen if a large plane crashed into a structure that houses reactor fuel.
The results of the study were released late last year, providing some reassurance to Americans - especially those living in places like Levy and Citrus counties and anyone else living near one of Florida's five commercial nuclear reactors.
"What they found was that not much would happen even with a direct hit by a big plane," said Mark Johnson, the Levy County radiological emergency planning coordinator. The Crystal River nuclear power plant is in Citrus County and just miles from the southwestern tip of Levy County.
The study was done for the Nuclear Energy Institute by the nonprofit EPRI, an international energy research consortium.
EPRI did a computer analysis of all types of U.S. nuclear power plants being hit at various places by a Boeing 747-400 plane traveling at 350 miles per hour, the approximate speed of the jetliner that hit the Pentagon.
Researchers looked for damage both at the point of impact and in the larger, surrounding area. "Structures that house reactor fuel are robust and protect the fuel from impacts of a larger commercial aircraft," the study concluded.
For security reasons, the analysis of any individual nuclear plant is not being released. Security also is the reason cited by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission for not discussing details about the structural capabilities of any of the 103 U.S. nuclear power plants.
Roger Hannah, a spokesman for the commission's Region II office in Atlanta, said he could not comment on the study or provide much information about studies his own federal agency may have undertaken because they would be classified for security reasons.
"I can tell you that while nuclear power plants are not designed specifically to withstand plane crashes, they are designed to withstand hurricanes, tornadoes and other acts of nature," Hannah said. "They are very robust structures that under many circumstances probably could withstand other scenarios."
Johnson said the first layer a plane would have to penetrate to reach a nuclear reactor is a 3-foot-thick, rebar-reinforced concrete wall in a structure designed to withstand intense pressure over several days in the event of a nuclear accident inside the reactor.
"Even the terrorists on September 11 knew that they weren't going to be able to do something like that," Johnson said. "They flew right over at least one nuclear power plant."
Karen Voyles can be reached at (352) 486-5058 or voylesk@gvillesun.com.

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