About U.S. nuclear reactors and spent fuel

by David Safier

Russell Lowes, who I go to with all my questions about nuclear power, posted an information-packed comment on my most recent post about the problems at Japan's Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant.

I've reprinted Lowes' comment below.

We have Fukushima-type General Electric Mark 1 reactors here in this country too. And we have the highest number of nuclear reactors of any country in the world. The U.S. has 104 commercial reactors and the second highest is France with 58.

We also have the highest amount of spent fuel in cooling pools in the world. These pools are designed to store waste for 5 years so the spent fuel can cool down. Then the used reactor fuel should be taken out and put into what they call dry casks. Utilities do not want to do this as much as they should, because it costs one to 1.5 million dollars per cask. While utilities have done some of this (Arizona Public Service has done this with about 70 casks at the nation's largest plant west of Phoenix, the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Sation), much of this has been ignored.

Today the U.S. reactors have about 70 thousand tonnes of spent fuel sitting in on-site pools. Many of these pools, including the ones at Palo Verde, are in buildings that are nowhere near as strong as the reactor containment buildings. Why? It is all about money. When you have profit-making corporations making decisions about whether to protect the citizenry or to make more short term gains, they often choose the latter.

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