In the event of a nuclear missile attack on the US, what would happen to a nuclear power plant within the blast range?
Right now, I'm considering two scenarios:
Option 1: Plant is not not targeted directly, but is still within the blast range of an air burst, and is damaged as a result. The blast isn't too close, so the plant's containment building is probably strong enough to withstand it (concrete deforms rather than collapses, and containment buildings are built to withstand things like hurricanes, earthquakes, and small aircraft impact). The plant will just shut down automatically when its safety systems kick in.
Option 2: Plant is deliberately targeted for attack, and is damaged by a ground burst. (In this case, the reactor would be a Pressurized Water Reactor, like Three Mile Island.) Blast would damage the containment building and/or the cooling system. Radioactive elements would be released due to reactor damage.
Option 1 seems a bit more practical, as it would cause the most blast/thermal damage over the widest possible area (and in a nuclear war, I think that power plants are fairly low priority compared to military bases and airports)... But option still 2 interests me, because if a weapon did manage damage a reactor, I suspect that it would be an effective way of 'salting the earth'. The fallout from a nuclear reactor would take far longer to decay than the fallout from an atomic bomb, and a large area would be rendered unfit for crops or human habitation for a very long time. I'm just wondering how feasible option 2 is. If someone managed to blow up a reactor from the outside, how would it differ to, say, the Chernobyl incident? (For a start, I don't think a Pressurized Water Reactor would have such a problem with fire, as it doesn't use graphite rods.)
Also, from a strategic perspective... Is there really much point in directly targeting individual power plants in order to disrupt the power grid? Even if the plants are still somehow fit for use following an attack, wouldn't the grid still be FUBARed anyway due to the EMP and collateral damage? A lot of the articles I've read have harped on about how American nuclear power plants would be prime targets, but... I don't know.
Related articles that I've read: