COGEMA La Hague site for reprocessing fuel rods
DISCLAIMER: I own a few shares in the company that owns this reactor. Har.
The Fukushima Daiichi disaster is focusing attention on a problem that has bedeviled Washington policymakers since the dawn of the nuclear age — what to do with used nuclear fuel.
[Any regular reader of this blog knows what my answer be. The rest of y’all should read on.]
Currently, spent fuel — depleted to the extent it can no longer effectively sustain a chain reaction — is stored in large pools of water, allowing the fuel to slowly cool and preventing the release of radiation.
But events in Japan, where two of the six spent fuel pools at the Fukushima Daiichi facility were compromised, have raised questions about practices at the nation’s 104 nuclear reactors, which rely on a combination of pools and dry casks to store used fuel.
[CNN is progressing. First mention I recall of dry casks.]
Currently, there is no maximum time fuel can remain in spent fuel pools, the NRC said Wednesday. As a result, critics say, nuclear plants have made fuel pools the de facto method of storing fuel, crowding pools with dangerous levels of fuel, industry critics say.
As of January 2010, an estimated 63,000 metric tons of spent fuel was in storage at U.S. power plants or storage facilities, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission…
“Spent fuel pools are considered ‘safety significant’ systems, so they meet a lot of the same standards that the reactor itself would have to meet,” said Greg Jaczko, chairman of the NRC. “For example, the spent fuel pools themselves are required to withstand the natural phenomena like earthquakes and tsunamis that could impact the reactor itself…”
A nuclear industry representative said the “lack of a national strategy” on waste storage is exacerbating the problem, since it does not know whether to place spent fuel in permanent, on-site containers, or containers suitable for transport.
The Yucca Mountain storage fiasco will raise it’s ugly head once again. I thought it was dead and buried, literally, after  geologic faults were revealed and  they had been known for years and covered up by site reports filled with lies.
Our “national strategy” has always been deformed by a Cold War mentality which presumed a spy ring would steal uranium from any breeder reactor and build a bomb big enough to destroy Foggy Bottom. So breeder reactors are outlawed on a power generation scale. The rest of the world uses breeder reactors to recycle 95% of their spent fuel.
Congress still thinks recycling anything is a mortal sin.