US Spent Nuclear Fuel’s Epic Problem

The NY Times published an article today discussing the considerable problems with spent nuclear fuel in the US. They looked at the problems facing the NRC and Dept. of Energy and the lack of a final site for permanent storage of spent nuclear fuel.

The US has no central permanent storage facility, Yucca Mountain was scrapped by the Obama administration due to resistance to the plan from Nevada. The current hope by the two agencies tasked with handling the growing problem is to create some sort of smaller facilities around the US but they would need to gain local approval.

What is even more disturbing is the rather obvious problem pointed out by the NY Times. Many old reactor sites around the US have torn down the reactors taking the spent fuel pools with. These pools are used to transfer spent fuel to and from the reactor and also into any sort of storage cask. Fuel at these facilities was put into casks and left on site. These casks are not appropriate for transit so they can never be moved from that reactor site, many of which are in populated areas. The fuel is in non-transportable casks without any way to now transfer it to a new cask. These casks per statements made by the NRC in public meetings are rated for a 20 year life span. 

It may not be just the older fuel in casks that are running out their life span that are the problem, newer high burnup spent fuel is being found to be degrading at a rapid rate compared to older types of fuel. This could cause issues with the fuel inside the cask and also make removing it to transfer it into a cask rated for transit extremely dangerous to impossible.

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Nancy Foust

Editor, SimplyInfo.org

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