Fukushima warning: US has 'utterly failed' to address risk of spent fuel
Nuclear experts told Congress Wednesday that spent-fuel pools at US nuclear power plants are fuller than safety suggests they should be. They say the entire US spent-fuel policy should be overhauled in light of the nuclear crisis at Japan's Fukushima plant.
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The spent-fuel pools are also not housed within robust concrete containment structures. Instead, "the pools are often housed in buildings with sheet metal siding like that in a Sears storage shed," Lochbaum said.Skip to next paragraph
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To solve the problem, he and others argue that spent fuel needs to be transferred to dry-cask storage after cooling for five years. In addition, he says, emergency procedures and operator training for spent-fuel pool accidents needs a major upgrade.
But Gregory Jaczko, chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, says the US reactors and spent-fuel pools remain safe. He assured the senators that a complete review of the safety of all 104 reactors in the US was under way, including issues such as the security and safety of spent-fuel pools.
Asked by Sen. Diane Feinstein (D) of California why commission policy permitted storing spent fuel in pools for up to 100 years, Dr. Jaczko said the NRC requires reactor operators to intersperse new and old fuel in the pools, lowering the threat if water is lost. But he acknowledged that this long-standing policy was now under review, he said.
"So why does industry practice appear to be to keep spent fuel in pool much longer than five to seven years?" Ms. Feinstein asked Moniz and William Levis, president of PSEG Power. "Why not move to dry cask?"
The industry, Mr. Levis explained, wanted to limit the number of times it moved and handled spent fuel because of the costs associated with that.
"I would not characterize the industry as having a reluctance for putting fuel bundles into cask storage," Levis said. "One of the impactful items is lack of a national strategy and policy as to what we're going to do with it."
For his part, professor Lochbaum emphasized the need for spent-fuel storage to get a hard look.
"The irrefutable bottom line is that we have utterly failed to properly manage the risk from irradiated fuel stored at our nation’s nuclear power plants," he said in his opening remarks. "We can and must do better."