Bob Alvarez: In June, Energy Secretary Rick Perry gave a case of heartburn to US nuclear reactor operators when he testified before the House Energy and Water Appropriations Committee in support of the department’s proposed budget for fiscal 2018. To underscore the need to restart the licensing process at the Yucca Mountain high-level radioactive waste site in Nevada, he mentioned how his visit to the Fukushima accident site powerfully affected him. “Having those spent fuel rods in those cooling ponds in a region of the world that’s inside that ‘Ring of Fire,’ as they call it. And the potential to have a geologic event, we could have a repeat of what happened at Fukushima to some degree.” While it appears that Perry has become an unlikely ally, of sorts, of my colleagues and me—we have been warning about the cooling-pond problem for several years—the opening of the Yucca Mountain site will not reduce risky storage practices for US nuclear reactor wastes. Perry correctly pointed to the vulnerabilities of power reactor spent fuel pools to destructive geologic events. He did not, however, mention key steps that need to be taken to significantly reduce the spent fuel pool hazards, well before a radioactive waste repository can open. The most important: a reduction of the density of spent fuel assemblies now stored in these pools, and an expansion of on-site storage of used fuel in hardened “dry casks.” These moves would return the cooling pools to their original purpose—to hold far fewer used fuel assemblies than they currently do, and to hold them only until the assemblies have cooled sufficiently for other forms of storage.
Bulletin of Atomic Scientists 9th Aug 2017 read more »