Fuel Pool 35 Miles from Major American City – which Is Highly Vulnerable to Earthquakes – Contains More Radioactive Cesium than Released By Fukushima, Chernobyl and All Nuclear Bomb Tests COMBINED

Radioactive Fuel Fires: Not Just a Japanese Problem

The spent fuel pools at Fukushima are currently the top short-term threat to humanity.

But fuel pools in the United States store an average of ten times more radioactive fuel than stored at Fukushima, have virtually no safety features, and are vulnerable to accidents and terrorist attacks.

If the water drains out for any reason, it will cause a fire in the fuel rods, as the zirconium metal jacket on the outside of the fuel rods could very well catch fire within hours or days after being exposed to air. See this, this, this and this. (Even a large solar flare could knock out the water-circulation systems for the pools.)

The pools are also filling up fast, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission:

The New York Times notes that squeezing more rods into pools may increase the risk of fire:

The reactor operators have squeezed spent fuel more tightly into the pools, raising the heat load and, according to some analyses, raising the risk of fire if the pools were ever drained.

Indeed, the fuel pools and rods at Fukushima appear to have “boiled”, caught fire and/or exploded soon after the earthquake knocked out power systems. See this, this, this, this and this.

Robert Alvarez – a nuclear expert and a former special assistant to the United States Secretary of Energy – notes that there have also been many incidents within the U.S. involving fuel pools:

Even though they contain some of the largest concentrations of radioactivity on the planet, U.S. spent nuclear fuel pools are mostly contained in ordinary industrial structures designed to merely protect them against the elements. Some are made from materials commonly used to house big-box stores and car dealerships.


All spent fuel pools at nuclear power plants do not have steel-lined, concrete barriers that cover reactor vessels to prevent the escape of radioactivity. They are not required to have back-up generators to keep used fuel rods cool, if offsite power is lost.


For nearly 30 years, Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) waste-storage requirements have remained contingent on the opening of a permanent waste repository that has yet to materialize. Now that the Obama administration has cancelled plans to build a permanent, deep disposal site at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, spent fuel at the nation’s 104 nuclear reactors will continue to accumulate and are likely remain onsite for decades to come.

According to Energy Department data:

  • The spent fuel stored at 28 reactor sites have between 200-450 million curies of long-lived radioactivity;
  • 19 reactor sites have generated between 100-200 million curies in spent fuel; and,
  • 24 reactor sites have generated about 10-100 million curies.

Over the past 30 years, there have been at least 66 incidents at U.S. reactors in which there was a significant loss of spent fuel water. Ten have occurred since the September 11 terrorist attacks, after which the government pledged that it would reinforce nuclear safety measures. Over several decades, significant corrosion has occurred of the barriers that prevent a nuclear chain reaction in a spent fuel pool — some to the point where they can no longer be credited with preventing a nuclear chain reaction. For example, in June 2010, the NRC fined Florida Power and Light $70,000 for failing to report that it had been exceeding its spent fuel pool criticality safety margin for five years at the Turkey Point reactor near Miami. Because of NRC’s dependency on the industry self-reporting problems, it failed to find out that there was extensive deterioration of neutron absorbers in the Turkey Point pools and lengthy delays in having them replaced.

There are other strains being placed on crowded spent fuel pools. Systems required to keep pools cool and clean are being overtaxed, as reactor operators generate hotter, more radioactive, and more reactive spent rods. Reactor operators have increased the level of uranium-235, a key fissionable material in nuclear fuel to allow for longer operating periods. This, in turn, can cause the cladding, the protective envelope around a spent fuel rod, to thin and become brittle. It also builds higher pressure from hydrogen and other radioactive gases within the cladding, all of which adds to the risk of failure. The cladding is less than one millimeter thick (thinner than a credit card) and is one of the most important barriers preventing the escape of radioactive materials.


I co-authored a report in 2003 that explained how a spent fuel pool fire in the United States could render an area uninhabitable that would be as much as 60 times larger than that created by the Chernobyl accident. If this were to happen at one of the Indian Point nuclear reactors located 25 miles from New York City, it could result in as many as 5,600 cancer deaths and $461 billion in damages.

The U.S. government should promptly take steps to reduce these risks by placing all spent nuclear fuel older than five years in dry, hardened storage casks — something Germany did 25 years ago. It would take about 10 years at a cost between $3.5 and $7 billion to accomplish. If the cost were transferred to energy consumers, the expenditure would result in a marginal increase of less than 0.4 cents per kilowatt hour for consumers of nuclear-generated electricity.

Another payment option is available for securing spent nuclear fuel. Money could be allocated from $18.1 billion in unexpended funds already collected from consumers of nuclear-generated electricity under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act to establish a disposal site for high-level radioactive wastes.

This situation cannot be blamed on the nuclear industry alone (which wouldn’t exist without government subsidization of the nuclear industry). The U.S. government promised to come up with a permanent storage solution more than a decade ago, but has failed to do so. As nuclear affairs chief Terry Pickens for Xcel Energy correctly says:

We were able to get it where we thought we could make it to 1998, and they are still not performing. And now we still want to refuel and operate our reactors, so we have to make more space in the pools.

The New York Times noted in 2005:

Most of the plants now operating were designed to store fuel for only a few years, because engineers expected that it would either be recycled or buried. The Energy Department was supposed to begin accepting fuel for burial in 1998 but has not yet done so.


The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has repeatedly said that cask storage and pool storage are equally safe. On March 14, the commission’s chairman, Nils J. Diaz, told reporters that the pools ”are not easily breached structures.”

After an attack, they would be very easy to cool, he said. ”You get a couple of fire hoses, and spray them, and you have many, many hours,” he said, before there could be any radiological release, giving officials time to contain the problem.

That isn’t working out so well at Fukushima.

Single Pool Near Major American City Holds More Cesium than Fukushima, Chernobyl and all Nuclear Tests … Combined

Nuclear engineers David Lochbaum and Arnie Gundersen provide a stunning figure on the amount of radioactive fuel stored in the fuel pools at Pilgrim nuclear power plant in Plymouth, Massachusetts:

[There is] more radioactive Cesium in the Pilgrim Nuclear Plant’s spent fuel pool than was released by Fukushima, Chernobyl, and all nuclear bomb testing combined.

(And listen to this new must-hear interview with Gundersen).

The Pilgrim Nuclear plant is only 35 miles from downtown Boston.

According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Pilgrim has the second highest risk of damage from an earthquake of any American nuclear facility.

What could possibly go wrong?

Nuclear power can be safe, or it can be cheap … but it can’t be both. For example, we’ve previously noted:

Apologists for the nuclear power industry pretend there are no better alternatives, so we just have to suck it up and suffer through the Japanese nuclear crisis.

But this is wholly illogical. The truth is that we can store spent fuel rods in dry cask storage, which is much safer than the spent fuel rod pools used in Fukushima and many American reactors.

As the Nation pointed out:

Short of closing plants, there is a fairly reliable solution to the problem of spent fuel rods. It is called “dry cask storage.”


But there is a problem with dry cask storage: it costs money….

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  • Listen to Arnie Gundersen describe the risks from Fukushima Reactors #4 and 3 spent fuel pools on Radio Ecoshock (27 minutes audio)

    As Washington’s blog reported, earthquake risk is up. Gundersen says the #4 fuel pool could either tip or just shatter and leak with a 7.0 quake. He doubts there would be an explosion (Arnie was an executive with a company installing nuclear fuel racks) – but the resulting fire (within 2 days of the pool draining) would send lots of hot particles “6 or 7 miles” into the air, to be blown by the Jet Stream winds to North America, and the whole Northern Hemisphere.

  • gozounlimited

    For You …. Fukushima Dai-Ichi No. 4: An earthquake before spent fuel rods are moved to safe storage would be “the end”

    By lambert strether, who blogs at Corrente.

    This clip from TV Asahi is a lucid explanation of the biggest ongoing news story in the world today: The catastrophic consequences if an earthquake strikes the Fukushima Dai-Ichi No. 4 power plant before its spent fuel rods are moved to safe storage place, a process that will not even begin until December 2013, and could take years. It aired March 8, 2012 on “Morning Bird,” a mainstream Japanese news and information TV program.

    NOTE Click the CC button at bottom right to show English subtitles!

    See Video; http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2012/04/fukushima-dai-ichi-no-4-an-earthquake-before-spent-fuel-rods-are-moved-to-safe-storage-would-be-the-end.html

    It seems that the Japanese government is as remote from the people as “our” own, and that the Japanese elite is as stupid and/or evil as “our” own. Quelle surprise!

    read more: http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2012/04/fukushima-dai-ichi-no-4-an-earthquake-before-spent-fuel-rods-are-moved-to-safe-storage-would-be-the-end.html

    • gozounlimited

      More info for you ….

      How Dangerous Is 400-600 Pounds Of Plutonium Nano Particle Dust Liberated By Fukushima?

      April 13th, 2012

      See Also: (AGreenRoad) – Video: Depleted Uranium (DU) Dangers And Effects On The Human Body – View Here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WgQ79-oDX2o&feature=player_embedded

      (AGreenRoad) – In this blog, we will explore how dangerous plutonium is for you and your family. We will also explore what happened at Fukushima, in relation to plutonium nano particle releases, since this is NOT being covered in the mass media. View this entry » http://dprogram.net/2012/04/13/how-dangerous-is-400-600-pounds-of-plutonium-nano-particle-dust-liberated-by-fukushima/#more-107127

      Japan TV: Temperature in spent fuel pool at No. 4 “much higher than the normal level” — “May be boiling” (VIDEO)

      April 13th, 2012

      (ENENews) – [Emphasis Added]

      The Tokyo Electric Power Company, or TEPCO, says the water temperature in the spent fuel storage pool at the No. 4 has risen to about 90 degrees Celsius. It fears the spent fuel rods may be damaged.

      TEPCO took the temperature on Tuesday using an extending arm on a special vehicle. It found the temperature was much higher than the normal level of under 40 degrees. …

      TEPCO says high levels of radiation at 84 millisieverts per hour were detected above the water surface, where radiation is rarely detected. …

      University of Tokyo Professor Koji Okamoto says… some of the water in the pool may be boiling. Okamoto says high radiation indicates the possibility of radiation leaks from damaged fuel…

      Read the report here.

      (RussiaToday) – ‘Worst-case scenario: Fukushima fuel pool with plutonium catches fire’

      Engineers at Japan’s struggling Fukushima nuclear plant have resumed efforts to remove built-up radioactive water. It comes after a powerful aftershock forced crews to flee the area. On Tuesday Japan raised the nuclear alert around the facility to the maximum level of seven. This puts the crisis on a par with the Chernobyl disaster. The decision was based on new data showing more radiation had leaked from the damaged plant than previously thought. But officials say that the upgrade does not mean the situation has become more critical. Meanwhile, attempts to restore cooling systems at the reactors appear to be no closer to success. Nuclear engineer, Arnold Gundersen, believes the Japanese government has downplayed the extent of the disaster… see video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pbje3ub5Dio&feature=player_embedded …… read more: http://dprogram.net/2012/04/13/japan-tv-temperature-in-spent-fuel-pool-at-no-4-much-higher-than-the-normal-level-may-be-boiling-video/

      Correspondence on the New Photo of Reactor Unit no. 4 at Fukushima
      (AkioMatsumura) – Dear Akio – This photo is quite sobering. As you know the pool at Unit No. 4 contains 1,538 fuel assemblies, including a full core that was freshly discharged prior to the accident. read more: http://dprogram.net/2012/04/12/correspondence-on-the-new-photo-of-reactor-unit-no-4-at-fukushima/

  • Tens of tons of highly toxic uranium and plutonium were ejected into the atmosphere, and proven by EPA RADnet data being picked up in air filter samples.

    Man’s greed for “cheap” power has led us down the road to fashion our complete destruction, a total anniliation of the human species and all the other animals, in our insane attempt to grab “cheap power”. We could pay the highest price of all for this “cheap power”.


  • jack gordon

    There is a company out there [TAYLOR DEVICES] that is the world leader in providing equipment which protects against earthquake damage. The URLs below tell the story much better than I can.



  • Pretty scary stuff,

  • Atoms4Peace1

    Not a very impartial piece. Anything with Gundersen is discredited.

    • Chelsei Bradbury

      Yeppers. Along with:



  • Chelsei Bradbury

    Had Obama not promised the closing of Yucca Mountain to Harry Reid in exchange for voters in the 2008 election, this would not be an issue.

    $13B wasted there…

    • Joffan

      Unfortunately, obstructing Yucca Mountain seems to have been a fairly bipartisan activity over time. We didn’t make noticeable progress during Bush either.

  • greenthinker2012

    The headline is another example of meaningless numbers designed to sound scary.
    The public swimming pool in my city has enough water in it to drown every single person in my region.
    Of course we can see that without a viable mechanism to deliver that water into everyone’s lungs my frightening statement lacks plausibility.
    Likewise the headline lacks a plausible mechanism by which all this Caesium can be released.
    The decay heat output of spent fuel drops rapidly so that the majority of the spent fuel is in no danger of catching fire.