Dear Akio —
There are several people I know in the nuclear industry who are well aware that spent fuel pools at power reactors pose potentially serious hazards. But, they prefer to keep silent in public about this matter.
While working for the U.S. Department of Energy, as a Senior Advisor to the Secretary, in 1993, I took part in a vulnerability assessment of the agency’s spent reactor fuel. We found that more than 90% of DOE’s spent fuel (~2,300 metric tons) left over from plutonium production for weapons, was stored in two aged reactor water-filled, unlined concrete basins at the Hanford Site in Washington State. The basins were next the Columbia River, a major fresh-water source for the northwestern United States.
It had been neglected for about 25 years. The spent fuel in the one basin was severely degraded, and the basin was cracked and had leaked. Since Hanford sits in an active earthquake zone, we soon realized that drainage of the basins could result in a catastrophic radiological fire. We promptly took action and established a 24 hour-7-days a week capability to provide water to the basins if they were damaged and to seek funds to remove the spent fuel and place it in dry storage at the center of the site, away from the river. It took about 10 years to accomplish this goal.
After the 9/11 attacks I became quite concerned about the vulnerability of spent fuel storage at U.S. commercial power reactors, and wrote an essay in the January/February 2002 issue Bulletin of Atomic Scientists about this matter.
This then served as the basis for our study, which my colleagues and I published in 2003 that I sent earlier.
I currently have an article about spent fuel pool hazards soon to be published by Issues in Science and Technology, the official publication of the U.S. National Academy of science.
Bob Alvarez is a Senior Scholar at IPS, where he is currently focused on nuclear disarmament, environmental, and energy policies. Between 1993 and 1999, Mr. Alvarez served as a Senior Policy Advisor to the Secretary and Deputy Assistant Secretary for National Security and the Environment. Alvarez is an award winning author and has published articles in prominent publications such as Science Magazine, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, Technology Review and The Washington Post. He has been featured in television programs such as NOVA and 60 Minutes.