« Nuclear Waste “Russian” Roulette SPECIAL – Kevin Kamps of Beyond Nuclear – Nuclear Hotseat #311 | Main | Beyond Nuclear presents at Heartwood re: courts deferring to agencies, on unprecedented highly radioactive liquid waste shipments »

Scientists warn nuclear waste fire at power reactors is a greater risk than NRC “flawed analysis” claims

Magazine published an article by researchers at Princeton University and the Union of Concerned Scientists warning that an irradiated nuclear fuel pool fire at nuclear power stations would be far more damaging than the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) analysis currently claims.  The article’s principle author Princeton University’s Dr. Frank von Hippel and co-authors Princeton researcher Michael Schoeppner and Union of Concerned Scientists’ staff scientist Dr. Edwin Lyman argue that NRC inaction to re-evaluate the risk leaves extremely large populations of US citizens and the economy vulnerable to undue risk to a fire caused by an earthquake or an act of terrorism. 

Following the refueling of every nuclear power plant, the highly-radioactive and thermally hot irradiated nuclear fuel must be taken out of the reactor core and moved into a large adjacent storage pond to shield against the radioactivity and constantly cool the nuclear waste. The loss of cooling water will cause the nuclear waste to overheat and catch fire. Because the irradiated nuclear fuel is stored outside of containment huge amounts of radioactivity would be liberated into the atmosphere and return as fallout.

The researchers’ analysis finds that a nuclear waste fire in the "spent" fuel pool could radioactively contaminate an area twice the size of New Jersey causing an average of 8 million people to indefinitely relocate and cause as much as $2 trillion in damages.

The researchers further find that the NRC analysis has played down the consequences because it has been “pressured by the nuclear industry, directly and through Congress, to low-ball the potential consequences of a fire,” to shield the nuclear industry from cost and liability.

The researchers' recent findings are corroborated by several studies including a National Academy of Sciences 2006 report to the NRC and Congress. “Safety and Security of Commercial Spent Nuclear Fuel Storage” identifies that nuclear waste at reactor storage ponds could be credibly attacked by terrorists causing offsite radioactive releases and harmful contamination out to 500 miles. 

Beyond Nuclear supports a management policy for the cessation of production of nuclear waste and offloading the cooled waste from overcrowded pools into hardened onsite storage casks (HOSS). Low-density storage of the remaining hot nuclear waste in the cooling ponds until it can be transfered into casks greatly reduces the likelihood and consequences of a nuclear waste fire in the event of a drain down.