Feds reject call to move spent nuclear fuel

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has stopped considering requiring that more spent nuclear fuel be moved from the pools where most of it is stored, despite calls from senators and outside groups to do so.

The commission accepted its staff’s recommendation last week to end debate over whether to expedite the movement of spent fuel to safer dry cask storage, the Associated Press reported late Tuesday. Some plants have already started transferring to dry casks because the federal government has not built a nuclear waste storage facility.

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Bill Dean, the commission’s top official for the northeast region, told the AP that both fuel pools and dry casks are “adequate storage processes for spent fuel, and there is not a significant safety benefit to requiring full transfer to dry cask storage.”

Five senators had asked the commission to consider a faster schedule for moving to dry casks.

Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), one of the senators who had petitioned the commission, said she was troubled by the decision.

“The NRC itself has raised concerns about the catastrophic consequences that a fire in a drained spent fuel pool could cause,” Boxer, chairwoman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said in a statement. “Earlier this month, a wildfire came within a half mile of the now-closed San Onofre nuclear plant, which is storing most of its spent fuel in pools rather than in dry cask storage.”

David Laochbaum, director of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ nuclear safety project, told the AP he was disappointed in the commission, called its decision “very shoddy work. It was incomplete, inaccurate.”