Markey Queries NRC on Overcrowded Nuclear Spent Fuel Pools at Reactor Sites

Fire in densely-packed spent-fuel storage pools such as at Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station could result in displacement of more than ten million people and hundreds of billions of dollars in damages

Boston (June 30, 2016) – Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), today sent a letter calling on the Commission to reexamine the risks of overcrowded spent fuel storage pools at the nation’s commercial nuclear reactor sites citing recent reports that indicate risks such as fire could cause damage equivalent to that of an accident at an operating nuclear reactor. Recent reports at the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth, Massachusetts indicate that the deterioration of neutron-absorbing materials has increased the risk of an uncontrolled nuclear reaction in the densely packed spent-fuel pool. In 2014, the NRC argued that the costs to nuclear reactor licensees of transferring spent fuel to dry casks outweighed the public benefits. However, according to a National Academy of Sciences report, the NRC’s study was flawed. Specifically, it failed to consider a number of realistic threats to nuclear spent fuel pools, including terrorist attacks and sabotage by insiders, and it did not take into account some of the broader societal consequences of a radioactive release. In Massachusetts, Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station’s pool was designed to hold 880 fuel assemblies, but today it holds more than 3,300 — nearly four times that number.

“Experts agree that a spent fuel pool accident could have consequences every bit as catastrophic as an accident at an operating reactor,” said Senator Markey. “The NRC has underestimated both the risk that nuclear spent fuel poses in such overcrowded circumstances and the value of alternatives for storage of this highly dangerous radioative legacy, especially for those living near nuclear reactor sites. Nuclear waste must be moved to safer storage now before the next nuclear disaster occurs, and the NRC must redouble its efforts to address this nuclear criticality.”

A copy of Senator Markey’s letter to the NRC can be found here.

Senator Markey has repeatedly warned of the risks posed by overcrowded spent fuel pools and called for immediate remediation, including introducing The Dry Cask Storage Act, which would require plant operators to submit plans to transfer most spent fuel to dry casks and to move remaining fuel stored in pools to configurations that minimize the chances of fire in case of a loss of cooling water. The legislation would also expand emergency planning zones around nuclear reactors from 10 to 50 miles for any plant operator that fails to carry out plans for expedited transfer of spent-fuel. In September 2013, Senator Markey urged the NRC to revise its spent-fuel storage risk assessment, in light of its deeply flawed methodology, and to reconsider expedited transfer of spent nuclear fuel to dry casks.

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