U.S. Regulators Find No Need to Hasten Spent Nuclear Fuel Transfers

Global Security Newswire Staff
May 28, 2014, 10:25 a.m.

U.S. reg­u­lat­ors have op­ted against or­der­ing the ex­ped­ited trans­fer of spent atom­ic fuel from above-ground pools to dry casks, the As­so­ci­ated Press re­ports.

The Nuc­le­ar Reg­u­lat­ory Com­mis­sion de­cided to abide by an in­tern­al ad­vise­ment to cease ex­plor­ing the idea of re­quir­ing atom­ic en­ergy plants to speed up the re­mov­al of used fuel from stor­age pools to met­al and con­crete con­tain­ers, ac­cord­ing to a Fri­day com­mis­sion memo.

“The com­mis­sion has ap­proved the staff’s re­com­mend­a­tion that this … activ­ity be closed and that no fur­ther gen­er­ic as­sess­ments be pur­sued re­lated to pos­sible reg­u­lat­ory ac­tions to re­quire the ex­ped­ited trans­fer of spent fuel to dry cask stor­age,” states the memo by Rochelle Ba­vol, act­ing com­mis­sion sec­ret­ary.

A num­ber of U.S. law­makers and act­iv­ists have cri­ti­cized the nuc­le­ar en­ergy in­dustry’s long­stand­ing prac­tice of keep­ing large quant­it­ies of highly ra­dio­act­ive atom­ic ma­ter­i­al in lightly pro­tec­ted stor­age pools. Their con­cern is that wa­ter sur­round­ing the used fuel could es­cape its con­tain­er and lead to the dis­pers­al of harm­ful ra­di­ation in­to the en­vir­on­ment in the event of an earth­quake, flood or ter­ror­ist at­tack.

Last year, com­mis­sion staff con­cluded that mov­ing spent fuel to dry cask stor­age would not res­ult in safety im­prove­ments great enough to war­rant the ex­tra fin­an­cial cost that would come with im­ple­ment­ing the meas­ure.

Bill Dean, Nuc­le­ar Reg­u­lat­ory Com­mis­sion north­east re­gion­al ad­min­is­trat­or, in an in­ter­view said the reg­u­lat­or had de­term­ined that both dry casks and pools were “ad­equate stor­age pro­cesses for spent fuel, and there is not a sig­ni­fic­ant safety be­ne­fit to re­quir­ing full trans­fer to dry cask stor­age.”

U.S. Sen­at­or Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was one of five sen­at­ors to write to the com­mis­sion’s head in re­cent weeks to warn against eas­ing safety and se­cur­ity reg­u­la­tions for moth­balled ci­vil­ian re­act­ors.

“We are one nat­ur­al dis­aster, mech­an­ic­al fail­ure or ter­ror­ist at­tack away from a dis­aster,” Sanders said in a Tues­day state­ment. “If the NRC will not change the rules, I will con­tin­ue to work with my col­leagues to change the rules through le­gis­la­tion.”

Cla­ri­fic­a­tion: This art­icle was mod­i­fied after pub­lic­a­tion to cla­ri­fy the po­ten­tial for ra­di­ation leaks.

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