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Monday, April 11, 2011

Tons of Radioactive Waste at U.S. Nuclear Power Plants, Sometimes Stored for Decades




INTERACTIVE MAP: Find out how close you are to a nuclear plant

Spent fuel rods have been stored in pools for years at Browns Ferry in Athens, Alabama.

Spent rods fill U.S. nuke pools, NRC says

By Anne Paine The (Nashville) Tennessean


ATHENS, Ala. — Tons of radioactive waste is piling up at U.S. nuclear power plants in water-filled pools, and some experts say dry-cask storage is safer.

At the Tennessee Valley Authority's Browns Ferry plant here, some of the used fuel rods have been steeping in water for decades.
Steve Kerekes a spokesman with the Nuclear Energy Institute, says the pools are safe and that operations in the U.S. have extra safeguards. But the Tokyo Electric Power Co. reports similar pools of spent fuel have released radioactive materials to the air since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan,while the radioactive waste stored in dry casks at the Japanese plant has remained secure.
In the U.S, more than 75% of the radioactive waste at the nation's 104 commercial nuclear reactors sits in pools, according to the. The rest is in dry storage casks
The pools were intended as temporary rest stops before transport to a central location for reprocessing or disposal. With no such sites available, the used rods, have been placed closer together than planned andlargely left in the pools.
While the NRC permits such packing, the TVA is considering a change.
"We're likely to do more dry-cask storage now," TVA spokesman Ray Golden said. Critics, including the Union of Concerned Scientists, say the pools are vulnerableand that the NRC should require the transfer to dry storage casks made of concrete and steel when the waste rods are cool enough, not when pools are nearly full.
The nuclear industry has hoped the federal government would build a long-term repository inside Yucca Mountain in Nevada, where nuclear waste from around the country could be held for hundreds of thousands of years. But the plan has encountered strong opposition.
NRC Commissioner Gregory Jaczko, who told Congress last month that U.S. nuclear plants and pools are safe, sees advantages in casks.
During a Nuclear Energy Institute Dry StorageForum in 2008, he said safety margins can be gained with "additional efforts to move spent nuclear fuel from pools to dry-cask storage."
That has not happened, yet, but the situation in Japan may spur it. Joy Russell with Holtec International, one of the country's few cask manufacturers, said her firm has received new inquires since the crisis in Japan. Tara Neider, former head of Transnuclear Inc. and now with Areva Federal Services, said demand already was good.

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