US Stores Spent Nuclear Fuel Rods at 4 Times Pool Capacity

In a recent interview with The Real News Network, Robert Alvarez, a nuclear policy specialist since 1975, reports that spent nuclear fuel in the United States comprises the largest concentration of radioactivity on the planet: 71,000 metric tons. Worse, since the Yucca Mountain waste repository has been scrapped due to its proximity to active faults (see last image), the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission has allowed reactor operators to store four times more waste in the spent fuel pools than they’re designed to handle.

Each Fukushima spent fuel pool holds about 100 metric tons, he says, while each US pool holds from 500-700 metric tons. A single pool fire would release catastrophic amounts of radioactivity, rendering 17-22,000 square miles of area uninhabitable. That’s about the size of New Hampshire and Vermont – from one pool fire.

In a March 25th interview, physician and nuclear activist, Dr Helen Caldicott, explains that:

There’s far more radiation in each of the cooling pools than there is in each reactor itself…. Now the very short-lived isotopes have decayed away to nothing. But the long-lived ones, the very dangerous ones, Cesium, Strontium, Uranium, Plutonium, Americium, Curium, Neptunium, I mean really dangerous ones, the long-lived ones – that’s what the fuel pools hold.

As a Senior Scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies, Alvarez was part of a multi-disciplinary international team that looked at possible terror attacks on nuclear facilities, focusing on the spent fuel storage pools. In 2003, they released a report, Reducing the Hazards from Stored Spent Power-Reactor Fuel in the United States, which calls for transferring the spent fuel from the pools into dry-cask storage. (Summary here.)

The report recommends that 75% of the spent rods be removed from each of the pools and stored in ultra-thick concrete bunkers capable of withstanding aerial impact. The project would take about ten years and would “reduce the average inventory of 137Cs (radioactive cesium) in U.S. spent-fuel pools by about a factor of four.”

The NRC attempted to suppress the IPC report, Alvarez says. “The response by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and nuclear industry was hostile.” But the National Academy of Sciences agreed that a fire in an overloaded fuel pool would be catastrophic. The NRC attempted to block the Academy’s report, as well.

The NRC serves industry, not the public, and by controlling the purse strings, Congress has forced the NRC to “greatly curtail its regulatory programs,” says Alvarez.

Engineer Keith Harmon Snow couldn’t agree more. He recently lambasted the NRC and mainstream media for downplaying the ongoing catastrophe in Japan. He notes that, “The atomic bomb that exploded at Hiroshima created about 2000 curies of radioactivity. The spent fuel pools at Vermont Yankee Nuclear Plant (U.S.) are said to hold about 75 million curies.” [emphasis added]

And that’s just one US nuclear plant, out of 104, not to ignore the undisclosed number of research sites. Then consider that several nuclear plants sit on geologic faults, as this image by Public Integrity reveals:

Also see this global map of earthquake activity and nuclear power plant locations.

Nuclear waste is a serious, deadly and growing problem that the industry refuses to address, preferring to externalize disposal costs onto the public (even suing the US government to clean up its mess for them, under a 1998 law it no doubt favored).

Unless the radioactive waste is laser-launched toward the sun, we’re stuck with waste that will contaminate the biosphere for thousands of years, for the measly prize of 25-30 years of electricity, as nuclear activist and mathematician, Gordon Edwards, so eloquently explained. The risk far outweighs the benefit; this energy choice exemplifies the insanity of the nuclear industry and its government protectors.

Further Sources:

Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment, by Alexey V. Yablokov and Vassily B. Nesterenko and Alexey V. Nesterenko (English publication: 2009), recently reviewed by toxicologist Janette Sherman on BlipTV, and also reviewed last year by Professor Karl Grossman.

Nuclear Reactors in Earthquake Zones around the Globe (TreeHugger, compiling various sources)

US Radiation Monitoring Map in Real Time (Radiation Network)

Video Maps Spread of Radioactivity in Real Time (Central Institute for Meteorology and Geodynamics, Austria)

Rady Ananda began blogging in 2004. Her work has appeared in several online and print publications, including three books on election fraud. Most of her career was spent working for lawyers in research, investigations and as a paralegal. She graduated from The Ohio State University’s School of Agriculture with a B.S. in Natural Resources. Read other articles by Rady.

11 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. hayate said on March 28th, 2011 at 8:53pm #

    Nuclear power is not safe. Neither is it “clean”.

  2. hayate said on March 28th, 2011 at 8:53pm #

    Great article, BTW.

  3. j30 said on March 28th, 2011 at 10:03pm #

    thx, hayate… and agreed, nukes are neither safe nor clean.

    btw, I just read that the EPA plans to modify the “safe” levels of various radioactive particles… in the case of Iodine 131, by 100,000-fold.

    can you freakin believe it?!?

    ~ Rady

  4. hayate said on March 29th, 2011 at 12:10pm #

    “can you freakin believe it?!?”

    Hey, the power brokers all live a safe distance away….

  5. hayate said on March 29th, 2011 at 12:18pm #


    “can you freakin believe it?!?”

    Yup, the power brokers live a safe distance away, so they don’t care. People are just serfs and slaves to them, and the environment is just resources to make a profit on and use to control others with.

  6. hayate said on March 29th, 2011 at 12:25pm #

    (My earlier comment didn’t appear to post, so I rewrote it and tried again – that is why there are 2 comments almost the same above)

    Have you seen this?

    When the Fukushima Meltdown Hits Groundwater

    March 27, 2011

    By Dr. Tom Burnett


    “Fukushima is going to dwarf Chenobyl. The Japanese government has had a level 7 nuclear disaster going for almost a week but won’t admit it.

    The disaster is occurring the opposite way than Chernobyl, which exploded and stopped the reaction. At Fukushima, the reactions are getting worse. I suspect three nuclear piles are in meltdown and we will probably get some of it.

    If reactor 3 is in meltdown, the concrete under the containment looks like lava. But Fukushima is not far off the water table. When that molten mass of self-sustaining nuclear material gets to the water table it won’t simply cool down. It will explode – not a nuclear explosion, but probably enough to involve the rest of the reactors and fuel rods at the facility….”

    (it gets worse, much worse)


  7. j30 said on March 29th, 2011 at 12:37pm #

    wow, that’s really bad news, hayate.

    Today, the NRC told Congress that despite Japan, they’re going ahead with plans to recommission US nuclear plants. Reuters has the report
    or see:

  8. hayate said on March 29th, 2011 at 8:21pm #

    All the nuclear power producers seem to have copped the same line, IE: full steam ahead no matter what. The only leader I have seen who expressed 2nd thoughts about adopting nuclear power, or building more plants, has been Chavez, who put Venezuela’s nuclear power plans on hold.

  9. hayate said on March 29th, 2011 at 10:31pm #

    US nuclear plant violates safety rules

    Published: 29 March, 2011, 20:10

    “According to the New York Attorney General, the nuclear power plant at Indian Point has sought over 100 exemptions from the fire safety code which may make it extremely difficult to secure the nearly 40-year old facility in an emergency…”


  10. hayate said on March 29th, 2011 at 10:49pm #

    Graphic footage of the region around Chernobyl, accompanied by the song, Umirat, from who are probably the world’s premier alt metal group Tracktor Bowling:


    This is what we have to look forward too.

  11. j30 said on March 29th, 2011 at 11:27pm #

    lol… music

    thx for the Indian Point info. I posted it at COTO Report