NRC Releases Spent Fuel Pool Study

Jun 26, 2013

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is seeking public comment on a study that looks at the potential impact of earthquakes on the pools where spent fuel is stored. The study says the pools likely are safe. An independent nuclear power expert says the study is flawed.

The NRC is looking for comments on its draft study examining if faster removal of spent fuel from pools to dry cask storage significantly reduces risks to public health and safety. The NRC began the study following the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan, where NRC spokesman Scott Burnell points out the spent fuel pools survived the strong earthquake. Ever since Fukushima, there has been heightened concern about an earthquake’s impact on a reactor in the U.S. The NRC study uses Peach Bottom in Pennsylvania as the basis. Here’s Burnell.

The study focuses on boiling water reactors whereas other U.S. reactors, such as Indian Point, are pressurized water reactors. David Lochbaum is director of the Nuclear Safety Project for the Union of Concerned Scientists.

He argues that problems resulting from earthquakes could result from other events as well.

The NRC analysis shows that a very strong earthquake has a low probability of damaging the spent fuel pool in the case study. Lochbaum says the NRC missed the mark.

The NRC study evaluates how an earthquake might cause the spent fuel in a pool to overheat and leak into the environment. The draft study concludes there is about a one-in-10 million-years chance of a severe earthquake causing a radioactive release from the pool examined. The NRC’s Burnell says public comment will help guide the agency in the regulatory process.

The NRC released its study Monday, and the comment period is for 30 days.