NRC seeks public comment on nuclear spent fuel pool study

Nuclear Regulatory Commission NRC nuclear spent fuel pool Fukushima earthquake

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) wants public comment of a draft study that looks at if faster removal of spent nuclear reactor fuel from pools to dry cask storage can reduce risks to public health and safety during an earthquake.

NRC began the study following the Fukushima accident in Japan in March 2011. The spent fuel pools there made it through the earthquake, but have since had problems with rodents shutting them down. The study considers a spent fuel pool similar to those at Fukushima and 23 other U.S. reactors and an earthquake several times stronger than what the pool is designed to withstand. The study also considered both a full spent fuel pool and one with less fuel and more spacing between fuel assemblies, as well as emergency procedures for adding water to the pool in the event that the earthquake causes the pool to lose water. The draft study concluded that there is a one-in-10-million-years chance of a severe earthquake causing a radioactive release from the pool at the imagined site.

“Our detailed analysis showed that even a very strong earthquake has a low probability of damaging the pool studied to the point of losing water,” said Brian Sheron, director of NRC’s Office of Nuclear Regulatory Research. “The draft study also shows that even if this particular pool was damaged, the fuel could be kept safely cool in all but a few exceptional circumstances. We’ll use the final study to inform further analysis of U.S. spent fuel pools.”

In cases where the analysis led to fuel damage, the study concludes existing emergency procedures, such as relocating people, would keep the public surrounding the plant safe. The study also said there are benefits of moving spent fuel older than five years into storage casks within five years.

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