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Robert Alvarez: The Potential Spent Fuel Catastrophe

As the photo I've attached shows, http://www.theoildrum.com/node/7675 the spent fuel pools at Units 3&4 are exposed to the open sky and might be draining. The dose rates coming off the pools appear to be life threatening. Lead shielded helicopters trying to dump water over the pools/reactors could not get close enough to make much difference because of the radiation dose-rates.

If the spent fuel is exposed, the zirconium cladding encasing the spent fuel can catch fire -- releasing potentially catastrophic amounts of radiation -- particularly Cs-137. Here's an article I wrote in January 2002 in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists about spent fuel pool dangers. http://www.nirs.org/radwaste/atreactorstorage/alvarezarticle2002.pdf

In October 2002, then Washington Attorney General Chris Gregoire organized a group letter signed by her and 26 of her colleagues to the U.S. Congress requesting greater safeguards for reactor spent fuel pools. The letter urged "enhanced protections for one of the most vulnerable components of a nuclear power plant -- its spent fuel pools." It was met with silence. I've attached the letter to this message

In January 2003 my colleagues and I warned that a drained spent fuel pool in the U.S. could lead to a catastrophic fire -- resulting in long-term land contamination substantially greater than that created by the Chernobyl (roughly half the size of the State of New Jersey). http://www.princeton.edu/sgs/publications/sgs/pdf/11_1Alvarez.pdf

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the nuclear industry strongly disagreed. Congress then asked the National Academy of Sciences to referee this dispute.

In 2004, after the NRC tried unsuccessfully to suppress its report, the NAS panel agreed with our findings. The Academy panel stated "...[a] partially or completely drained pool could lead to a propagating zirconium cladding fire and release large quantities of radioactive materials to the environment." http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=11263#toc

U.S. reactors are each holding as at least four times times by weight than in the individual pools at Fukushima. According to DOE about 63,000 metric tons of spent fuel has been generated as of this year containing approximately 12.4 billion curies. These pools contains some the largest concentrations of radioactivity on the planet. Only 14% of U.S. spent fuel is in dry storage.

At this stage it is critical that::

Efforts to extend the operating license at CGS by the NRC be suspended, given that it sits in an earthquake/volcano zone that could experience greater destruction than previously assumed.
The NRC should promptly require CGS to end the dense compaction of spent fuel and ensure that at least 75 percent of the spent fuel in that pool be removed and placed into dry, hardened storage containers on site, which are capable to withstanding greater than expected seizmic events.