While no one can say with certainty today where spent nuclear fuel will ultimately go for long-term storage or disposal, one thing is clear: the current methods of spent fuel storage are safe.
Managing the “back end” of the nuclear fuel cycle – what happens to the fuel after it is taken out of a reactor – may never be completely separated from political and economic considerations. But the technical challenges are fairly straightforward. Spent fuel is hot. And it is extremely radioactive. It must be kept cool and it must be shielded to protect workers, the public and the environment. It must also be properly controlled to prevent it from achieving a sustained nuclear chain reaction, also known as going critical.
The NRC has updated its Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel fact sheet, which explains the two major ways spent fuel is managed – in pools and in dry cask storage. The fact sheet explains the regulatory requirements, inspections and monitoring that ensure spent fuel is managed safely. It also details improvements the NRC has made to address concerns raised by the accident at Japan’s Fukushima plant and the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
An NRC backgrounder, Dry Cask Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel, provides more detail on how this management strategy evolved, the basic requirements for dry storage, different licensing options and opportunities for public input.
A great deal more information on spent nuclear fuel storage is also available on the NRC’s website. We encourage you to read about our activities in this area and post your questions, comments and concerns below.