Lawmaker introduced legislation with Sens. Boxer & Sanders to move spent nuclear fuel into safer dry cask storage

Washington (May 27, 2014) – Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, released the following statement after the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) today published its 4-1 vote against requiring the accelerated transfer of spent nuclear fuel from current pools into safer dry cask storage. As part of its post-Fukushima activities, the NRC studied whether licensees should be required to remove spent nuclear fuel from spent fuel pools more quickly.

“Overcrowded spent nuclear fuel pools are a disaster waiting to happen,” said Senator Markey. “Experts agree an accident at one of these pools could result in damage as bad as that caused by an accident at an operating nuclear reactor. Pilgrim Nuclear Plant’s spent fuel pool contains nearly four times more radioactive waste than it was originally designed to hold. It is time for the NRC to post the ‘Danger’ sign outside the fuel pools and begin to swiftly move spent fuel to safer storage now before a disaster occurs.”

When spent nuclear fuel is removed from the part of the reactor that generates electricity, it continues to produce significant quantities of heat and radiation for years. Studies conducted by the National Academy of Sciences, NRC and independent experts have shown that partial draining of the water from a crowded spent fuel pool caused by an accident or terrorist attack could result in a spontaneous fire, the release of large quantities of radiation, and widespread contamination. In Massachusetts, the Pilgrim Nuclear Generating Station was originally licensed to hold about 880 spent fuel assemblies in its spent fuel pool but now holds close to 4,000, making it very vulnerable to this sort of fire.

Earlier this month, Senator Markey, along with Senators Boxer and Sanders, introduced S. 2325, the Dry Cask Storage Act of 2014, which would ensure that every nuclear reactor operator complies with an NRC-approved plan that would require the safe removal of spent nuclear fuel from the spent fuel pools and place that spent fuel into dry cask storage within seven years of the time the plan is submitted to the NRC. The legislation also provides funding to help reactor licensees implement the plans and expands the emergency planning zone for non-compliant reactor operators to 50 miles.

On September 17, 2013, Senator Markey sent a letter to NRC Chairman Macfarlane describing the staff’s recommendation as “biased, inaccurate and at odds with the conclusions of other scientific experts – including those expressed in a peer-reviewed article that was co-authored by you in 2003.”