Eyes on Spent Fuel Pools at Reactor Safety Public Meeting

The July 28 meeting in Rockville, Md., to discuss recommendations of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's Japan Task Force gives Public Citizen and others the chance to say they don't go far enough.

The 12 recommendations made in the "Recommendations for Enhancing Reactor Safety in the 21st Century" by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's Japan Task Force will be discussed July 28 in a public meeting of the commission in Rockville, Md. The task force worked four months to assess how well NRC's regulatory scheme and regulations have prepared U.S. nuclear plants against Fukushima Daiichi-style disasters, and its July 12 report generally supported what is already in place.

The report does recommend that the NRC evaluate ways to enhance plants' capability to prevent or mitigate seismically induced fires and floods, strengthen their ability to mitigate loss of electrical power, and strengthen on-site emergency response capabilities. It also recommends enhancing the strength and instrumentation of plants' spent fuel pools.

Allison Fisher, outreach director of Public Citizen's Energy Program, says the spent fuel proposals do not go far enough. "The task force recommendations, which include requiring nuclear plant operators to re-evaluate seismic and flooding risks and increase back-up power capacity, could help address some of the critical safety deficiencies that proved catastrophic in Japan. However, the task force fails to address the risks associated with spent fuel pool vulnerabilities," she wrote in a response dated July 19 that is posted on Public Citizen's website. "Fuel pools were designed for the temporary storage of a limited number of spent fuel assemblies. The amount of waste has increased beyond the design capacity of the pools. (U.S. reactors generated about 65,000 metric tons of spent fuel by the end of 2010, of which 75 percent is stored in pools.) If water is lost from a densely packed pool because of an attack or accident, ambient air alone would not keep the fuel assemblies cool. This could result in a fire and the release of large quantities of radioactive materials into the environment," she continued. "Of particular concern are the types of reactors like those used in Japan -– which are found in nearly a quarter of reactors in the U.S. Moving spent fuel from overcrowded and poorly located spent fuel pools to hardened on-site storage would mitigate some of the concerns about our mounting nuclear waste crisis."

Public Citizen contends NRC should suspend licensing and relicensing activity during this post-Fukushima Daiichi period of regulatory safety review. The organization and allies submitted a petition April 14 requesting this.

The July 28 meeting will be webcast and available via toll-free teleconference line and will include members of the task force. It will take place from 1 to 4 p.m. in the Commission Meeting Room on the first floor of One White Flint North, 11555 Rockville Pike in Rockville. After the task force present its report and recommendations, attendees can ask questions about its work and conclusions. To call in, contact Gregory Bowman at 301-415-2939 or Lance Rakovan at 301-415-2589 for instructions.

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