U.S. Spent Nuclear Fuel Pools Pose Catastrophic Risks, Report Claims

The huge amounts of spent nuclear fuel accumulating in containment pools across the U.S. pose a potentially catastrophic risk and should be moved to dry storage as soon as possible, a new report by the Institute for Policy Studies warns. Of the 65,000 metric tons of highly radioactive spent fuel generated by U.S. reactors, about 75 percent is kept in cooling pools. According to Robert Alvarez, a senior policy advisor in the U.S. Department of Energy in the Clinton administration and co-author of the report, those pools were not designed for the amount of fuel — or the level of radiation — they are holding and are vulnerable to the type of events that crippled the Fukushima plant in Japan in April. While spent fuel pools contain some of the largest concentrations of radioactivity on the planet, Alvarez said, “some are made from materials commonly used to house big-box stores and car dealerships.” The report says the U.S. can reduce the risk by moving the rods to dry, hardened storage casks. Transporting that much spent fuel would likely take a decade and cost $3.5 to $7 billion, Alvarez wrote, but “the price of doing too little is incalculable.”