Used fuel pools are safe for storing nuclear waste on plant sites

The July 6 editorial, "Don't store N-waste at Millstone forever," included the following statement: "The dry casks are a safer alternative than the spent fuel storage pools, which run the risk of a nuclear fire and large radioactive releases if the water drains and the fuel is uncovered, as seen at the Fukushima nuclear facility in Japan after the March 2011 tsunami."

This statement is incorrect.

Used fuel pools and dry containers are considered equally safe, as confirmed by former NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko, who testified at a hearing last year on the Japan disaster. Details of Jaczko's comments are available at

There was considerable misinformation and confusion regarding the status of the used fuel during the Fukushima crisis. In fact, none of the used fuel in the storage pools suffered major damage.

Visual inspections and ongoing chemical testing of the fuel pools at Fukushima confirm all contained sufficient cooling water throughout the event and there was no damage to the used fuel in any of the pools beyond some physical damage caused by falling debris.

There were no fires, no fuel rod incineration and no explosions in any of the fuel pools. The NRC and Chairman Jaczko confirmed this last year.

The accident at Fukushima demonstrated that even in a worst-case situation there is time to provide cooling to the fuel pools.

Current U.S. industry and operational guidance requires operators to be aware of the fuel pool time-to-boil limit in all configurations.

Fuel pool level and temperature are important and the industry is taking steps to ensure there are diverse and redundant means for monitoring used fuel pool conditions.

Following the 9-11 terrorist attacks, the industry introduced additional contingency measures to provide alternate means of cooling the used fuel pools and injecting water into the pools in the event that large areas of the plant are made inaccessible because of fire or explosions.

Considering we already have procedures, training and backup equipment in place (and we have confirmed their readiness) we are in position to effectively monitor and protect the pools.

The levels of used fuel pool protection and redundancy will further increase in response to the accident in Japan.

Tom Kauffman is senior media relations manager for the Nuclear Energy Institute inWashington, D.C.


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