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Taking a Look at an Independent Review of Spent Fuel Pool Safety and Security

Scott Burnell
Public Affairs Officer

 A recently published National Academy of Sciences report includes the academy’s latest thoughts on enhancing the safety and security of spent nuclear fuel storage. The NRC gave NAS the funding for the study at the direction of Congress. This report is Phase 2 of the NAS work; we’ll recap Phase 1 in a moment.

The agency sponsored the two-phase NAS study to identify lessons learned from the Fukushima accident and to follow up on previous NAS recommendations on spent fuel safety and security. The earlier NAS work looked at these same topics after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and led to a 2004 report (our response to Congress about the 2004 report is on the agency’s website).

As the NAS gathered information for the latest report, they talked with NRC staff and received NRC documents related to relevant regulatory programs and requirements.

Our first look at the Phase 2 NAS report did not identify any safety or security issues that would require immediate action by the NRC. U.S. nuclear power plant security is extremely robust; the plants are some of the best protected facilities in the world. We have a long record of studying and analyzing the safety and security of spent fuel storage. Some of these studies have resulted in security enhancements. For example, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the NRC’s security assessments resulted in improvements to security at nuclear power plants, and strengthened the plants’ coordination with other federal and state agencies in responding to security threats.

Our post-Fukushima requirements for U.S. reactors have enhanced spent fuel pool safety. For example, we required plants to improve the ability of operators to monitor the water level in spent fuel pools. We also required plants to develop new strategies for adding water to these pools to keep them cool, even under the conditions that might exist following an extreme natural event, like a severe earthquake or flood.

Looking at all the available information, we remain confident U.S. spent fuel is safely and securely stored. The Phase 2 NAS report looks ahead to some areas that NAS believes warrant further study or action. We’ll evaluate the NAS report and its recommendations to see if we need to take any further action in the long run. The staff plans to provide the Commission with its assessment of the NAS Phase 2 report later this year.

We know the public has questions about safely and securely storing spent nuclear fuel, so the NRC website includes key points and frequently asked questions and answers. We expect to update this information once we’ve finished assessing the NAS report.

We looked at the NAS Phase 1 report in 2014. That report looked at the causes of the Fukushima accident and also identified lessons for improving nuclear power plant safety systems and operations. The staff provided the Commission an assessment of the Phase 1 report in SECY-15-0059. In our final assessment of the Phase 1 report, we determined that all of the NAS recommendations were being addressed by completed and ongoing NRC activities.

4 responses to “Taking a Look at an Independent Review of Spent Fuel Pool Safety and Security

  1. William Maurer May 20, 2016 at 10:18 pm

    The fact that BECO, Entergy, NRC, FEMA and MEMA all allowed Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station to remain on line during Nor’easters and blizzards knowing (at least since the Blizzard of “78) that the switch yard was likely to ground fault and cause a LOOP (which it has done eight times) speaks to a culture that recklessly gambles with public safety until challenged. Pilgrim’s last Nor’easter Scram in January, 2015 was labelled a close call by the UCS. Root cause determinations and corrective action plans addressing Pilgrim’s switch yard vulnerabilities have been a miserable failure and the switch yard remains as vulnerable to failure during severe winter weather today as it was in 1978. It was only public pressure revealing this risk taking behavior after the 2015 switch yard failure at Pilgrim that caused the NRC and MEMA to “suggest” Entergy preemptively take Pilgrim off line in advance of NOAA blizzard warnings.
    Connecting the dots between Pilgrim’s ongoing uncorrected switch yard vulnerability during blizzards that coincidentally make evacuations impossible for days only requires common sense. I can’t help but believe there was a conscious decision to role the dice at Pilgrim by government regulatory and safety professionals who are mandated to protect/insure public safety first and foremost.
    Therefore I have no faith in Entergy and the NRC’s expressions of “confidence” in Pilgrim’s safety, in this case SNF storage. Similarly I also believe FEMA and MEMA play their own brand of less than adequate heads up ball relative to emergency planning and that creating merely a perception of public safety the unspoken but understood mission and purpose of these agencies.

    • Engineer-Poet May 23, 2016 at 11:32 am

      Every time I see UCS mentioned, I know I’m going to see a heap of straw-man arguments, half-truths and other logical fallacies.

      The fact that BECO, Entergy, NRC, FEMA and MEMA all allowed Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station to remain on line during Nor’easters and blizzards knowing (at least since the Blizzard of “78) that the switch yard was likely to ground fault and cause a LOOP (which it has done eight times)

      The intentional deception here is that ALL plants are susceptible to switchyard shorts under such conditions and can be brought off-line.

      speaks to a culture that recklessly gambles with public safety until challenged.

      This is a non-sequitur.  LOOP is not a safety threat.  Painting it as such is nothing short of a lie.

      Pilgrim’s last Nor’easter Scram in January, 2015 was labelled a close call by the UCS.

      UCS should be disbanded and its donors, management and spokespeople made to pay for the damage they’ve done.

  2. Engineer-Poet May 20, 2016 at 1:46 pm

    Unless and until the actual hazards of SNF storage come up to 50% of the documented and repeatedly-demonstrated ones of dumped coal ash and GHGs sourced from all fossil and “renewable” fuels, no further effort should be wasted on making it yet safer.  This effort should instead be used to increase the use of nuclear power, to reduce those greater hazards from other energy sources.

  3. stock May 20, 2016 at 1:39 pm

    I believe that it is almost criminal that spent fuel at least 5 years aged, has not already been dry-casked.

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