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Wednesday
May282014

Fukushima lessons learned? None! NRC ends consideration of expedited unloading of radioactive waste pools

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission snuck out a major decision on the Friday before Memorial Day Weekend. Its generic study of whether or not to require the expedited transfer of "spent nuclear fuel" (irradiated nuclear fuel rods, highly radioactive waste) out of vulnerable storage pools will be unceremoniusly ended, with no requirement to unload pools into dry cask storage. The study was undertaken as part of NRC's Fukushima "lessons learned" process, created by former NRC Chairman Greg Jaczko in the immediate aftermath of the Japanese nuclear catastrophe.

The decision came in the form of a memo, sent from the NRC Secretary to the NRC EDO (Executive Director for Operations). The memo simply states: "The Commission has approved the staff's recommendation that this Tier 3 Japan lessons-learned activity be closed and that no further generic assessments be pursued related to possible regulatory actions to require the expedited transfer of spent fuel to dry cask storage."

Four of the five NRC Commissioners (Svinicki, Apostalakis, Magwood, and Ostendorff) voted to support NRC Staff's recommendation, made late last year, that irradiated nuclear fuel currently stored in densely-packed pools, need not be transferred to dry casks on an expedited basis.

The sole dissenting vote on the NRC Commission came from its Chairwoman, Allison Macfarlane. Chairwoman Macfarlane criticized the NRC staff's analysis, including that the only risk initiator considered was an earthquake. She called for a “more thorough analysis,” including consideration “of all natural and human-induced events (e.g., accidental, malevolent).”

Chairwoman Macfarlane provided a more than 10-page analysis explaining her dissent. Three of the other Commissioners who blessed the staff's recommendation for inaction provided a page, or less, of explanation for their own votes. More.