Spent Nuclear Fuel Pools Are Full

September 5, 2014, by Ken Jorgustin

spent-nuclear-fuel-pools-are-full
image: nrc.gov

Commercial ‘Spent Nuclear Fuel’ is composed of metal assemblies about 12’-15’ long. The fuel assemblies, after being in the reactor for 3 to 6 years, are stored underwater in ‘Spent Fuel Pools’ for 10 to 20 years before being sent for reprocessing or dry cask storage.

Of the 104 operating nuclear power plants in the United States, most spent nuclear fuel rods are kept onsite in Spent Fuel Pools.

The problem is, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission estimates that many of the nuclear power plants in the United States will be out of room in their spent fuel pools by 2015!

So what have they been doing?

 
They’ve been packing the spent fuel rods much more densely (in the spent fuel pools) than previously allowed.

Approximately one-quarter to one-third of the nuclear fuel load of a reactor is removed from the core every 12 to 24 months and replaced with fresh fuel.

Existing reactors generate about 2,000 tons per year – and this spent nuclear fuel has to go somewhere…

 
The thing is, there’s barely any room left – especially since the Obama administration terminated the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in 2009.

Without expressing opinion one way or the other (regarding Yucca Mountain or ‘nuclear energy’), the fact remains that we have more than 100 nuclear power plants operating in the United States, right now, and there seems to be increasing risks surrounding spent nuclear fuel storage pools – most of which are jammed full of spent nuclear fuel rods.

When systems are forced to do more than they were designed to do — there are risks.

This is why I’m posting this on a ‘preparedness’ website.

Not only are these spent nuclear fuel pools ‘terrorist targets’, but there’s always the possibility of an unforeseen breakdown leading to catastrophe. If there is an interruption of cooling due to emergency situations, the water in the spent fuel pools may boil off, which would likely result in radioactive elements being released into the atmosphere.

 
Here are the locations of the nuclear waste locations in the United States, including spent nuclear fuel pools.

locations-of-spent-nuclear-fuel-pools-united-states
This image is a work of a United States Department of Energy (or predecessor organization) employee, taken or made as part of that person’s official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image is in the public domain.

 
With more than 67,000 metric tons of commercial Spent Nuclear Fuel being stored at 77 sites in 35 states, and while SNF storage at reactors was intended to be temporary, pending disposal, No nation operates a disposal site for SNF.

Spent Nuclear Fuel storage is expected to be needed for more than 100 years, given the current status of operational nuclear power plants.

By the way, U.S. nuclear plants use the same sort of fuel pools to cool spent nuclear-fuel rods as those at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant, only the U.S. pools hold much more nuclear material – apparently about 10 times as much

 
Nuclear Fuel Assembly:
nuclear-fuel-assembly

 
Spent Nuclear Fuel Pool
spent-nuclear-fuel-pool

 
Spent Nuclear Fuel Storage Pool Location
spent-nuclear-fuel-pool-location

 
Sources:
http://www.nrc.gov/waste/spent-fuel-storage/nuc-fuel-pool.html
http://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R42513.pdf