NRC: Yankee Fuel Storage Is Safe

Apr 30, 2013

Federal regulators say they’re confident the public is not in danger from the tons of radioactive spent fuel stored in an above-ground pool at the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant.

The comments by Nuclear Regulatory Commission officials came after a nuclear critic told Vermont lawmakers that the fuel rods should be moved because of the potential threat.

The NRC releases an annual safety report card on Vermont Yankee. The agency says Yankee’s grades this year were good.

Chris Miller, director of reactor safety for NRC Region 1, says officials conducted about 5,500 hours of inspections over the last year.

“So our main message is that the performance of the plant was good performance this year,” he said. “We have continued strong oversight presence, and we continue to follow up on items of interest where improvements are being made.”

Miller spoke to reporters in advance of a question and answer session for the public.

One question likely to come up is about the potential safety problem of spent nuclear fuel at the plant. The issue was raised by Robert Alvarez, a former Department of Energy official. He told state lawmakers earlier this month that 513 metric tons of fuel are stored in the pool, four times more than was intended in the original design. Alvarez said the fuel pool was not built with the safety redundancies included in the main reactor construction.

“These spent fuel pools are nothing more in my opinion than warehouses,” Alvarez told the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee.

But Miller from the NRC said the government has determined that the fuel storage is safe. He said the fuel pool is frequently inspected by NRC officials at the Yankee site.

“So we continue to monitor the safety of the fuel,” he said. “It is of a concern, but right now we don’t have a concern like it’s a safety concern.”

For decades, the federal government has been unable to build a repository for long-term radioactive waste storage. As a result, virtually all the fuel burned in commercial nuclear reactors is stored either in fuel pools or in steel and concrete casks located on plant grounds.