4 September 2014. Update satellite images.
Nuclear Power Plants and WMD Series:
Nuclear Waste Is Allowed Above Ground Indefinitely
By MATTHEW L. WALD, AUG. 29, 2014
As the country struggles to find a place to bury spent nuclear fuel, the
Nuclear Regulatory Commission has decided that nuclear waste from power plants
can be stored above ground in containers that can be maintained and guarded
The decision, in a unanimous vote of the commission on Tuesday, means that
new nuclear plants can be built and old ones can expand their operations
despite the lack of a long-term plan for disposing of the waste.
The chairwoman of the commission, who voted with the majority but dissented
on certain aspects, said Friday that the vote risked allowing Congress to
ignore the long-term problem.
If you make the assumption that there will be some kind of institution
that will exist, like the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, that will assure
material stays safe for hundreds or thousands of years, theres not
much impetus for Congress to want to deal with this issue, the chairwoman,
Allison M. Macfarlane, said Friday. Personally, I think that we cant
say with any certainty what the future will look like. Were pretty
damned poor at predicting the future.
In the 1980s, Congress picked Yucca Mountain, near Las Vegas, as the prime
location for a burial site, but that consensus fell apart in the face of
sharp opposition from Nevada and a changing political balance. The Energy
Department is now saying that a burial site will be established by 2048,
but the agency has no method for finding one.
The commission approved a generic environmental impact statement, under which
nuclear activities can continue, but did not address the impact to the
environment if the stored nuclear waste were abandoned, which would leave
it vulnerable to attack or allow the containers to break down.
Ms. Macfarlane said it was wrong to predict institutional control indefinitely.
Best not to say anything about something so uncertain, she said,
and just to work with what we can know for sure.
For decades the commission has allowed nuclear plants to operate under what
it called its waste confidence rule, which said that although there was no
repository, there would most likely be one by the time it was needed, and
in the interim, the storage of the highly radioactive waste in spent fuel
pools or in dry casks would suffice. But in June 2012, a court ruled that
the commission had not done its homework in studying whether the waste could
be stored on an interim basis. As a result, the commission froze much of
its licensing activity two years ago.
On Tuesday, however, the commission approved a finding by its staff that
waste could be stored as opposed to disposed of indefinitely.
The vote was 4-0.
Some nuclear opponents say the issue is certain to wind up back in court.
At the Natural Resources Defense Council, Geoffrey H. Fettus, the lead lawyer
in the original case, said in a statement: The Nuclear Regulatory
Commission failed to analyze the long-term environmental consequences of
indefinite storage of highly toxic and radioactive nuclear waste; the risks
of which are apparent to any observer of history over the past 50 years.
The commission failed to follow the express directions of the court.
The action, though, allows the commission to extend the licenses of two reactors
in Pennsylvania, Limerick 1 and 2, and to extend the license for storage
casks holding spent fuel at another two-unit plant, Calvert Cliffs, in Maryland.
Several other license renewals would have had to have been denied had the
new policy not been put in place, including Indian Point 2 and 3, in Buchanan,
N.Y., but those license applications still have other unresolved issues.
Likewise, several applications to build reactors would eventually have been
blocked, except that those plants were not very likely to be built in the
In coming years the agency will need to reconfigure its staff to handle a
different problem: an increased number of plants shutting down and entering
the decommissioning process, Ms. MacFarlane said. And, she said, the commission
needs to rewrite its rules for decommissioning plants. For example, she said,
once the nuclear fuel has been removed from a reactor core, the security
requirements at the plants should probably be relaxed because the risk is
22 October 2012. Update images:
Arkansas Nuclear One
Palisades Nuclear Generating Station
Prairie Island Nuclear Power Plant
Grand Gulf Nuclear Generating Plant
Seabrook Nuclear Generating Station
Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station
Oconee Nuclear Station
Columbia Generating Station
Point Beach Nuclear Plant.
1 June 2011. Add images for Fort St. Vrain, Surry, North Anna and
30 March 2011. Related:
isfsi-security.pdf US Nuclear Spent Fuel Storage Security March 30, 2011 (410KB)
Revise Haddam Neck site, add three drawings of casks. Detailed
report on safety, security and durability of dry casks:
Evaluation of the Technical Basis for Extended Dry Storage and Transportation
of Used Nuclear Fuel, United States Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board,
(145 pp, 5MB)
The technical information currently available, together with the experience
gained to date in the dry storage of used fuel, demonstrates that used fuel
can be safely stored in short term and then transported for additional storage,
processing or repository disposal, at least for low burnup fuel. However,
additional information is required in order to demonstrate, with similarly
high confidence, that high burnup fuel can be safely transported and any
type of used fuel can be stored in dry storage facilities for extended periods
without the fuel degrading to the extent that it may not perform satisfactorily
during continued storage and subsequent transportation.
However, the Board recommends a number of research and development programs
be implemented to demonstrate that used fuel can be stored safely in dry
storage facilities for extended periods. However, research alone will not
be sufficient. Because the experience base for extended dry storage of used
fuel is short and the credible degradation phenomena are several and not
robustly predictable in a quantitative sense, an in-service inspection and
aging maintenance program appears to be necessary to support extended dry
storage of used nuclear fuel. The technical details of such an in-service
inspection program will depend on the desired safety objectives of extended
dry storage. Consequently, a practical engineering approach that is based
on the observational method and periodic assessments will likely be required
to provide an adequate safety basis in addition to what can be learned from
targeted scientific investigations.
The regulations concerning dry storage of used fuel do not currently address
storage for extended periods. There is also some inconsistency between the
regulations that apply to dry storage and those that apply to transportation
and it is unclear how to meet both sets of regulations. It would be helpful
in managing extended dry storage of used fuel if the regulations were to
be revised as an integrated set and based on a risk assessment for safety
significance and consequence. In addition, the Board considers that the
regulatory requirements related to physical security and terrorist threats
should also be reviewed on a risk-informed basis using potential consequence
analysis and integrated with the storage and transportation regulations.
At this point, the nuclear waste management policy of the United States is
unclear, with the result that used fuel will be stored at reactor sites for
longer than originally foreseen. It is thus essential that the appropriate
research and development programs, and monitoring and inspection programs,
are implemented as a matter of priority in order to demonstrate that used
fuel can be safely stored for extended periods and then transported and handled
as part of a future waste management program.
26 March 2011. Updated with minimally secure cask areas.
What about spent fuel stored in dry casks?
When the spent fuel pool in the "attic" of the nuclear plant fills up, some
of the highly radioactive fuel assemblies are loaded into large casks and
stored outside on concrete pads. Weapons available on the black market, and
even some that can be legitimately purchased in the U.S., or explosives could
cause the casks to be penetrated resulting in the release of large amounts
of radiation. At some plants, the casks are line-of-sight visible from open
access (i.e., unsecured) areas while other plants place casks inside unguarded
What should the NRC do about spent fuel security?
As soon as it is safe to do so, most of the spent fuel at reactors should
be put into dry casks. Fuel in dry casks is less likely to catch fire, and
terrorists would have to break open many dry casks to release the same amount
of radioactivity that a single wet pool could release.
To reduce the vulnerability of these dry casks, the NRC should adopt new
"physical protection standards" that enhance the security requirements for
dry cask storage so that the fuel will be protected against reasonably
foreseeable threats that might emerge over several decades. The new standards
should consider credible scenarios by which attackers could gain access to
and release the radioactive material from the dry casks. Protection would
involve a combination of operational measures and physical measures, such
as putting spent fuel casks into enclosed buildings, using earthen berms,
or erecting other barriers.
24 March 2011
Background: Safety and Security of Commercial Spent Nuclear Fuel:
US Nuclear Spent Fuel Storage Casks Eyeball
US Nuclear Spent Fuel Storage Casks
Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel
There are two acceptable storage methods for spent fuel after it is removed
from the reactor core:
Spent Fuel Pools - Currently, most spent nuclear fuel is safely stored in
specially designed pools at individual reactor sites around the country.
Dry Cask Storage - If pool capacity is reached, licensees may move toward
use of above-ground dry storage casks.
Dry Cask Storage
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the need for alternative storage began
to grow when pools at many nuclear reactors began to fill up with stored
spent fuel. Utilities began looking at options such as dry cask storage for
increasing spent fuel storage capacity. See the graph of nuclear fuel storage
Dry cask storage allows spent fuel that has already been cooled in the spent
fuel pool for at least one year to be surrounded by inert gas inside a container
called a cask. The casks are typically steel cylinders that are either welded
or bolted closed. The steel cylinder provides a leak-tight containment of
the spent fuel. Each cylinder is surrounded by additional steel, concrete,
or other material to provide radiation shielding to workers and members of
the public. Some of the cask designs can be used for both storage and
There are various dry storage cask system designs. With some designs, the
steel cylinders containing the fuel are placed vertically in a concrete vault;
other designs orient the cylinders horizontally. The concrete vaults provide
the radiation shielding. Other cask designs orient the steel cylinder vertically
on a concrete pad at a dry cask storage site and use both metal and concrete
outer cylinders for radiation shielding. See the
picture of a typical dry cask storage system.
The first dry storage installation was licensed by the NRC in 1986 at the
Surry Nuclear Power Plant in Virginia.
Spent fuel is currently stored in dry cask systems at a growing number of
power plant sites, and at an interim facility located at the Idaho National
Environmental and Engineering Laboratory near Idaho Falls, Idaho. See the
map showing the location of existing independent spent
fuel storage installations.
Cask Loading into Storage Bunker at San Onofre Nuclear Plant
Three drawings below from: Evaluation of the Technical Basis for Extended
Dry Storage and Transportation of Used Nuclear Fuel, United States Nuclear
Waste Technical Review Board, December 2010
|Browns Ferry Nuclear Power Plant, Limestone County,
AL 29 November 2013
34°42'15.12" N 87°06'53.74" W
|Farley Nuclear Power Plant, Houston County,
AL 1 February 2013
31°13'16.06" N 85°06'40.01" W
|Palo Verde Nuclear Power Station, Maricopa County,
AZ 28 April 2013
33°23'15.68" N 112°51'22.05" W
|Arkansas Nuclear One, Russellville, AR 12 November
35°18'41.68" N 93°13'45.84" W
Image below from Bing.com/maps
|Decommissioned Rancho Seco Power Reactor Facility,
Herald, CA 18 April 2014
38°20'46.30" N 121°07'36.70" W
|San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant, San Onofre,
CA 27 April 2014
33°22'14.06" N 117°33'28.21" W
Image below from Bing.com/maps
|Decommissioned Humboldt Bay Power Plant, Eureka,
CA 28 May 2014
40°44'30.06" N 124°12'43.59" W
|Decommissioned Fort St. Vrain Nuclear Generating
Station, Fort St. Vrain, CO 19 June 2014
40°14'54.51" N 104°52'20.89" W
Source of images:
|Demolished Haddam Neck (Connecticut
Yankee) Nuclear Power Station, East Hampton,
CT 19 September 2013
41°28'53.03" N 72°29'09.57" W
|Millstone Nuclear Power Station, Niantic,
CT 7 April 2013
41°18'41.80" N 72°09'55.29" W
Image below by Bing.com/maps
|St. Lucie Nuclear Power Plant, Hutchinson Island,
Florida 23 April 2012
27°20'39.10" N 80°14'41.72" W