The lack of a clear plan for temporary fuel storage to date has created a situation in which large amounts of radioactive material are being stored in cooling pools at nuclear reactors, and such storage facilities are potentially vulnerable to natural disasters and terrorist attacks. At Fukushima, at least one cooling pool lost water, allowing the spent fuel to overheat and release radioactive materials. This has led some experts to call for spent fuel to be moved more quickly out of cooling pools in the United States and into dry casks that do not require water to keep cool, just naturally circulating air.
Others, including Kadak, counter that there will always be a need for cooling pools, since water cooling is important for removing heat from spent fuel that has recently been removed from a reactor. It takes about five years for the spent fuel to cool down enough to be stored in dry casks. (Moving sooner would be prohibitively expensive.) Moving out the old fuel will do little to make the water-cooling storage areas safer, he says, since this fuel is already cool enough that it doesn’t need water. He says what’s needed, instead of a push to move fuel into dry casks, is backup systems that can supply cooling water reliably, even if the pools leak and there is no power for pumping in water.
The report recommends $1 billion in research funding, an amount double the current funding for nuclear power, in part to ensure that nuclear waste can be stored safely for 100 years in dry casks.