On-Site Storage

Currently, all radioactive waste generated by U.S. reactors is stored at the reactor site - either in fuel pools or waste casks. However, the casks are currently security-vulnerable and should be "hardened" while a better solution continues to be sought.



Dr. Gordon Thompson's "devastating critique" of NRC's HLRW storage pool fire risk whitewash

Dr. Gordon Thompson, executive director of the Institute for Resource and Security Studies in Cambridge, MAYesterday, to meet the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) arbitrarily short 30-day deadline for public comments on its "Draft Consequence Study of a Beyond-Design-Basis Earthquake Affecting the Spent Fuel Pool for a US Mark I Boiling Water Reactor" (NRC-2013-013), attorney Diane Curran and expert witness Dr. Gordon Thompson filed a blistering response on behalf of an environmental coalition of 26 groups, including Beyond Nuclear.

In her cover letter to NRC, Curran wrote: "...the Draft Consequence Study is not a credible scientific document. While the study purports to be a broad scientific inquiry into pool fire phenomena, in fact it is a very narrow study that ignores basic pool fire phenomena and important pool fire accident contributors. It misleadingly implies that a severe earthquake causing complete draining of a fuel pool is the primary source of risk to a spent fuel pool, and assumes that open-rack low-density pool storage is not advantageous without even examining it. In short, the Consequence Study appears designed to advance the authors’ pre-determined and unsupported conclusion that high-density pool storage is safe."

Thompson makes clear that a partial drain down of a high-level radioactive waste (HLRW) storage pool is an even worse-case scenario than a complete drain down, for air cooling provided by convection currents -- which might otherwise prevent ignition of the irradiated nuclear fuel's combustible zirconium cladding -- is blocked by the layer of water in the bottom of the pool. Thompson points out that any technically-competent analyst who has been paying attention to pool-fire risks since 1979 would have known that, and charges NRC with being deliberately misleading. He also points out the potentially catastrophic consequences of pool fires -- over 4 million people could be displaced, long-term, from their homes, as even NRC acknowledges.

Curran concluded: "We are appalled that after decades of avoiding and obfuscating this urgent safety issue, the NRC now proposes to rely on this biased and unscientific document to justify continued high-density
pool storage of spent fuel, both in its post-Fukushima safety review and in the Draft Waste Confidence Environmental Impact Statement. We join Dr. Thompson in urging you to withdraw the Draft Consequence Study and begin anew with a study of spent fuel pool fire risks that finally complies with basic principles of sound scientific inquiry."

Curran represented a coalition of environmental groups which, along with a coalition of state attorneys general, prevailed against NRC's Nuclear Waste Confidence at the second highest court in the land. The U.S. Appeals Court for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that NRC must complete an environmental impact statement on the risks of on-site storage of HLRW at reactors, including in pools. NRC did not appeal the ruling, and quickly acknowledged that the completion of the EIS would prevent finalization of proposed new reactor license approvals, as well as old reactor license extension approvals, for at least two years (NRC had previously admitted that a Nuclear Waste Confidence EIS would take seven years to complete!).

Robert Alvarez, senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies, has heralded Dr. Thompson's work as a "devastating critique." Alvarez adds, "Gordon's comments systematically reveal the kinds of scientific malpractice the NRC is resorting to at a time when one of the nation's largest and oldest high-hazard enterprises faces a deepening economic crisis."

Alvarez, formerly a senior advisor to the Energy Secretary during the Clintion administration, knows what he's talking about. Along with Dr. Thompson, now-NRC Chairwoman, Ph.D. geologist Allison Macfarlane, and five more experts, Alvarez published "Reducing the Hazards from Stored Spent Power-Reactor Fuel in the United States," in Jan., 2003. This groundbreaking warning about the potentially catastrophic risks of HLRW pool fires was largely affirmed by a congressionally-ordered National Academy of Science study in 2005; NRC unsuccessfully attempted to block the security-redacted public release of NAS's findings. Alvarez also published a May 2011 report on the hazards of high-density pool storage across the U.S., in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe. And in June, in a report commissioned by Friends of the Earth, Alvarez focused on the risks of HLRW pool storage at the now permanently shutdown San Onofre nuclear power plant.


NEIS: "SoCal Edison Pulls the Plug on Two Nuke Reactors -- Could Have Serious Implications for Illinois"


For immediate release                                                   Contact:  Dave Kraft,

June 7, 2013                                                                            630-506-2864 cell

SoCal Edison Pulls the Plug on Two Nuke Reactors – Could Have Serious Implications for Illinois

CHICAGO—The old crumbling nukes continue their non-radioactive decay, it seems, as Southern California Edison (SCE) today announced its decision to permanently close the damaged San Onofre twin nuclear reactors (SONGs).

The two reactors had been idled for over a year after serious steam tube generator leaks forced a shutdown of the facility.  SCE had wanted to restart the reactors at 70% power, hoping it could operate while finishing repairs.  The NRC denied approval of this plan.

“It seems to be a clear case of utility "overreach," in the sense that SCE gambled on NRC allowing them to continue flying with cracked wings --  like NRC IS doing at Palisades, in Michigan -- and lost,” says David Kraft, director of the Illinois nuclear watchdog organization Nuclear Energy Information Service (NEIS). “I guess this problem was just too egregious for even the NRC's usually accommodating tastes.”

Earlier this week two former NRC Commissioners and the former Prime Minister of Japan participated in a press event in San Diego, where they publicly stated what a hazard SONGs (and other reactors) have become.  This certainly didn't help SONGs’ PR case.

This closure could, unfortunately have serious negative consequences for Illinois moving forward.

Congress is currently drafting legislation that could call for the “temporary” warehousing of the high-level radioactive waste (HLRW) in the form of spent reactor fuel from closed reactors like SONGs, Kewaunee (WI), Crystal River (FL) and Zion (IL) – all closed nuclear reactors.

“If Sen. Wyden's Energy Committee drafts their legislation to include language calling for "centralized interim storage" (CIS) facilities being built, the reactors that get closed are the first priority to move waste; and, Illinois is a prime candidate to host such a facility,” Kraft points out. 

A 2012 study by Oak Ridge National Laboratory1 states:

“…the consolidated ISFSI [spent fuel storage] site in Illinois is the single optimized site for an ISFSI solution when only [spent nuclear fuel] at orphaned reactors is considered relative to siting a consolidated ISFSI.”

“The CIS sites would allegedly be "temporary," but we've been covering the HLRW issue for 31 years now.  The Federal Government's notion of ‘temporary’ is laughable. Illinois could become the nation’s de facto permanent HLRW dump for decades,” Kraft says.

NEIS has been trying for weeks to get face to face meetings with Senators Durbin, Kirk and Governor Quinn to discuss this impending catastrophe, but without success. An Illinois CIS facility could get well over 6,200 additional tons of HLRW, above and beyond the 8,600 tons it already stores at Illinois reactors run by Exelon, according to the Oak Ridge report.

“Since 2002 NEIS and hundreds of other environmental and safe energy organizations have suggested a method called “hardened onsite storage” (HOSS) as a means of storing HLRW relatively safely at reactor sites until the federal government constructs a permanent disposal facility.  We have been ignored.  It’s time that Illinois’ politicians start paying attention, before the trucks start rolling in,” Kraft warns.


1 The Oak Ridge NL report, titled "Application of Spatial Data Modeling Systems, Geographical Information Systems (GIS), and Transportation Routing Optimization Methods for Evaluating Integrated Deployment of Interim Spent Fuel Storage Installations and Advanced Nuclear Plants" (


Swan SONGS as Edison opts to permanently close San Onofre

Image by J. DeStafano, 2012Southern California Edison has decided to permanently shutter its Units 2 and 3 San Onofre Nuclear Generating Stations (SONGS) reactors in Southern Cal! Congratulations to all who fought so hard for this great victory! Read the Edison press release.

"This is very good news for the people of Southern California," said [a] statement from Friends of the Earth president Erich Pica. "We have long said that these reactors are too dangerous to operate and now Edison has agreed. The people of California now have the opportunity to move away from the failed promise of dirty and dangerous nuclear power and replace it with the safe and clean energy provided by the sun and wind." 

Included in the "very good news" is the fact that San Onofre's operating reactor risks are no more. However, as longtime San Onofre watchdog Ace Hoffman has pointed out in aCounterpunch article, the on-site storage (in pools and dry casks) risks for the high-level radioactive waste already generated remains. But at least no more high-level radioactive waste will be generated, ever again, at San Onofre.

Beyond Nuclear has compiled comprehensive media coverage on, and other reactions to, the San Onofre 2 & 3 closures at its Nuclear Retreat page.


States tell NRC to review storage of radioactive waste at reactors

The dry cask storage units outside of the Vermont Yankee plant. Photo by Laura Frohn, News21.orgFrom AP: Attorneys general in Vermont, New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut announced Thursday they are petitioning the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a more thorough environmental review of storage of highly radioactive nuclear waste at plant sites.

"Federal law requires that the NRC analyze the environmental dangers of storing spent nuclear fuel at reactors that were not designed for long-term storage,’’ said Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell.

In a landmark ruling last year, a federal appeals court in Washington said the NRC needed to do a full environmental review of the risks of storing the waste — spent nuclear fuel — in storage pools and casks made of steel and concrete on the grounds of nuclear plants while the search continues for a disposal solution.

Activists in Vermont have come to mistrust the NRC "dog and pony" shows that show up in their state. Now four attorneys general are demanding some meaningful accountability from the agency on prolonged on-site storage of high-level radioactive waste. The position of Beyond Nuclear is that this waste must not be moved to so-called "interim" sites but properly stored in hardened, protected casks - a process known as Hardened On-Site Storage.

‘‘NRC staff is continuing to ignore serious public health, safety and environmental risks related to long-term, on-site storage,’’ New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a news release. ‘‘The communities that serve as de facto long-term radioactive waste repositories deserve a full and detailed accounting of the risks.’’ More.


Environmental coalition defends contentions against Fermi 3 proposed new reactor, challenges adequacy of NRC FEIS

Environmental coalition attorney Terry LodgeTerry Lodge (photo, left), Toledo-based attorney representing an environmental coalition opposing the proposed new Fermi 3 atomic reactor targeted at the Lake Erie shore in Monroe County, MI, has filed a reply to challenges from Detroit Edison (DTE) and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) staff.

The coalition's reply re-asserted "no confidence" in DTE's ability to safely stored Class B and C "low-level" radioactive wastes on-site at Fermi 3 into the indefinite future, due to the lack of sure access to a disposal facility. it also again emphasized the lack of documented need for the 1,550 Megawatts of electricity Fermi 3 would generate. And the coalition alleged that NRC has failed to fulfill its federal responsibilities under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), as by the illegal "segmentation" of the needed transmission line corridor from the rest of the Fermi 3 reactor construction and operation proposal.

This legal filing follows by a week upon the submission of public comments about NRC's Fermi 3 Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS). The comments, commissioned by Don't Waste Michigan and prepared by Jessie Pauline Collins, were endorsed by a broad coalition of individuals and environmental groups, including Beyond Nuclear. The FEIS comments included satellite images of harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie in 2012, and in 2011 to 2012, attributable in significant part to thermal electric power plants such as Detroit Edison's Monroe (coal burning) Power Plant, at 3,300 Megawatts-electric the second largest coal burner in the U.S. Fermi 3's thermal discharge into Lake Erie will worsen this already very serious ecological problem.

In the very near future, the environmental coalition intervening against the Fermi 3 combined Construction and Operating License Application (COLA) will submit additional filings on its contentions challenging the lack of adequate quality assurance (QA) on the project, as well as its defense of the threatened Eastern Fox Snake and its critical wetlands habitat. The State of Michigan has stated that Fermi 3's construction would represent the largest impact on Great Lakes coastal wetlands in the history of state wetlands preservation law.