Indian Point’s spent fuel pools are reportedly built into bedrock and not above ground which probably makes them much better adapted to seismic events. The pools are 40-feet-deep and are submerged under 27 feet of constantly circulating water designed to absorb the residual heat of the rods and create an aqueous buffer to the spent fuel’s radiation.
Indian Point is powered by pressurized water reactors (PWRs). A PWR core can have 193 fuel assemblies made of 50,000 fuel rods packed with 18 million enriched uranium dioxide pellets. The plant on the Hudson River has 2,073 highly radioactive spent fuel assemblies according to the March 31, 2011 DOE report Inventory and Description of Commercial Reactor Fuels within the United States.
In comparison, the SFP of Unit 4 of the stricken Fukushima Dai-ichi plant in Japan contains less spent fuel than Indian Point with up to 1,500 spent and active fuel assemblies tottering 100 feet off the ground. Though containing just 72 percent of Indian Point’s SFPs, Unit 4’s collapse has been predicted by varied sources as being the death knell for the top third of Japan.
The total inventory of Indian Point’s active and spent fuel calculated by EnviroReporter.com comes to approximately 12.7 nuclear reactor cores worth of extremely hot rods. The nuclear power plant less than 40 miles from Manhattan has four diesel generators for each reactor as backup power. The NRC, operating from the belief that sustained electric grid collapse isn’t even in the stars, let alone the Sun, requires that only one week’s worth of fuel for the generators be kept on hand at reactors like Indian Point.
So all bets are off when the next massive coronal mass ejection envelops Earth with its electrical grid-demolishing geomagnetic destructiveness. Even if the four diesel generators for each Indian Point reactor and spent fuel pool worked after the CME passed, the massive blackout would cause total disruption making the refueling of these generators indefinitely next to impossible.
Once the generators gave out, the cores of the two operating Indian Point reactors would be at risk of total meltdown. The three spent fuel pools, which aren’t in a fortified building like the reactors to prevent radiation leaks, would take longer to go critical. The rods would eventually begin to be exposed as the overheating water evaporated.
EnviroReporter.com explored a spent fuel pool catching fire with the October 2013 article SONGS’ Lethal Legacy. A 2007 Nuclear Regulatory Commission report postulated what would happen if just one of the two spent fuel pools at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) cracked after an earthquake and drained. Six hours after the water drained, the exposed rods would catch fire and begin releasing 40 million curies of cesium-137 into the air in the unfortified building.
That is about 150 percent of all the atmospheric nuclear bomb tests from the 1940s to the 1960s all up in flames that water can’t quench as it would explode upon contact with the SONGS spent rods’ melting cladding. The Friends of the Earth advocacy group said in that “[t]he resulting doses to people living within a 10-mile radius would be in the lethal range.”
Now imagine hundreds of times this amount of radiation going up at the same time not only in the United States but around the world on both sides of the equator. That’s The 12 Percent Question. When Earth gets shellacked by a solar storm the size of the 2012 whopper that NASA said missed the planet by a week, hundreds of spent fuel pools like those at Indian Point and SONGS are set to blaze along with their associated reactors which would melt down.
Worldwide there are 437 civilian power nuclear reactors around the world as of August 28 according to the International Atomic Energy Agency. Plans for 71 more plants are finalized. Each reactor has a spent fuel pool. The U.S. has the most nuclear reactors of any country, 100 in 65 power plants, mostly in the Midwest and East.
Nearly five million Americans, or about two percent of the population, live within 10 miles of an operating nuclear power plant. Over 111 million people reside within 50 miles of a nuclear reactors and spent fuel pools, fully 36 percent of the population.
The 2011 DOE study said that there was over 77, 161 tons of “used nuclear fuel” in the country three years ago. This amount continues to grow by tons each year with nowhere to put the expanding inventory of now-useless rods so hot they will be dangerous for hundreds of thousands of years.
“Over the last few decades of commercial reactor operation has resulted in spent fuel pools that have been reaching capacity,” the report read. “Reracking of the spent fuel pool grids and fuel rod consolidation operations undertaken by the utilities has significantly increased fuel pool capacity at existing reactor fuel pools. However, these activities have only postponed the inevitable situation of having full fuel pools.”
The DOE report included a map showing the locations of “reactor storage pools, independent spent fuel storage installations, federal and other sites.” Most of the nation’s sinister stockpile of useless but highly poisonous spent fuel is stashed east of the Mississippi River. This huge area, coincidentally but fatally nonetheless, is where the greatest complete power grid failure is predicted when the Big Sun One clobbers the planet.
The Congressional Research Service published for members and committees of the U.S. Congress the May 24, 2012 report U.S Spent Nuclear Fuel Storage that broke it down even further. “As of December 2011, more than 67,000 metric tons of SNF [spent nuclear fuel], in more than 174,000 assemblies, is stored at 77 sites (including 4 Department of Energy (DOE) facilities) in the United States located in 35 states,” the CRS report said, “and increases at a rate of roughly 2,000 metric tons per year. Approximately 80% of commercial SNF is stored east of the Mississippi River.”
Illinois led the nation, as of December 31, 2011, with 15 facilities that store 6,900 metric tons of uranium (MTU) termed “wet” in the form of 28,242 “wet assemblies” in electrically-controlled spent fuel pools, according to the CRS. Pennsylvania is second with 4,606 MTU in 20,898 assemblies with third place New York storing 12,466 wet assemblies of extremely radioactive rods of uranium-based fuel weighing 3,082 metric tons.
“A variety of forces or ‘threats’ acting on spent fuel could result in containment being breached, resulting in potential exposures and risks,” the CRS reported, including “loss of power for water supply, circulation, or cooling, which can have significant consequences for SNF in wet pool storage.”
Counterintuitively, spent nuclear fuel is far more radioactive once it is used up. The NRC began several years ago allowing “high burn-up” fuel where the reactor rods are essentially charred atomically to squeeze every usable bit of energy out of them. The resultant high burn-up spent fuel is far hotter and much more radioactive necessitating a longer period of time in vulnerable spent fuel pools.
About three quarters of America’s spent nuclear fuel rods are stored in the electrically-circulated SFP water but, as CRS points out, “wet storage pools become filled to capacity using “dense packing” storage methods, dry storage is increasingly being used, although there are 27 sites with 36 wet storage pools with no current dry cask storage capabilities.”
The NRC published the final “Generic Environmental Impact Statement for Continued Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel” September 10 codifying the what the rule calls “continued storage of spent nuclear fuel beyond the licensed life for operations of a commercial nuclear reactor.” No matter the revelations in an exposé like this, American spent fuel pools will be still operating electrically when the unescapable coronal mass ejection wipes out the world’s electrical grid with plasma shot out of the sun at millions of miles per hour. The American government has had its final say no matter the outrage, which NRC has turned a deaf ear to, whether it comes from environmentalists or U.S. Senators like Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-California).
Even without considering the threat to America’s nuclear reactors and spent fuel pools from CMEs and EMPs, the August NRC decision to allow spent fuel pools to function as indefinite repositories radioactive rods has enraged nuclear watchdogs. They have long asserted the dangers of nuclear power, especially spent nuclear fuel rods which have no permanent repository anywhere on Earth yet need to be safeguarded and monitored for hundreds of thousands of years.
“Perhaps no issue raises more serious questions of inter-generational ethics than whether we should continue to create such extraordinarily hazardous wastes without a solution to their safe disposal,” wrote nuclear watchdog Daniel Hirsch in comments to the NRC regarding the new rules December 20, 2013. “The plutonium-239 in HLW [high-level waste], for example, is one of the most toxic substances on earth; a few millionths of an ounce if inhaled will cause cancer with virtual 100% statistical certainty. Yet we must find a way to successfully isolate from the environment hundreds of metric tons of plutonium for its hazardous life—about half a million years.” [Original emphasis]
Hirsch, President of Committee to Bridge the Gap, is a veteran nuclear watchdog who was instrumental in shutting down the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. Together, with Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles and the Southern California Federation of Scientists, Hirsch made a persuasive argument in 50 Years of Power – 500,000 Years of Radioactive Waste that not only does nuclear power not make sense economically, except for the very few who profit from it, it is immoral to pass its impacts upon the unborn.
“Our society reaps the benefits of these atomic power plants: roughly fifty years of electricity,” Hirsch continued. “But thousands of generations to come may pay the price if even a small fraction of the radioactive waste contaminates water, soil, or air over the time period for which it is dangerous. We get fifty years of power; they get 500,000 years of radioactive waste.”
That anything could go wrong on a grand scale, such as the inevitable grid-wrecking CME, plays no apparent part in government planning for nuclear power plant disaster. It’s as if the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has no clue at all as to what NASA has so clearly spelled out: a massive coronal mass ejection is coming and it’s going to destroy modern civilization for the unlucky ten percent of Americans that the government predicts will survive.
In its Waste Confidence Rule report, the “NRC arbitrarily dismisses—in a footnote—the prospect that institutional controls may not be durable and effective over these extraordinary time periods, asserting that loss of institutional controls is “so unlikely that it is a remote and speculative occurrence,”” Hirsch said in the environmental coalition’s comments.