In all types of energy production, money is made at the front end of the process rather than in waste management at the back end. Macfarlane argues, however, that a failure to plan for waste disposal can cause the more profitable front end of the operation to collapse.
Nuclear fuel is discharged from a light water reactor after about four to six years in the core. Because the fuel is extremely thermally and radioactively hot at discharge, it must be cooled in a pool. Actively cooled with circulated borated water, spent fuel pools are about 40 feet (12 meters) deep. The water not only removes heat but also helps absorb neutrons and stops chain reactions. In a number of countries, including the United States, metal racks in spent fuel pools hold four times the originally intended amount of fuel. Plans to reprocess fuel have failed for both economic and policy reasons. This means that today there is more fuel in the pools than in reactor cores, and this fuel poses a large radiation risk in the event of a coolant-loss accident, such as occurred at Fukushima.
Japan's Fukushima Daiichi plant has seven spent fuel pools, one at each reactor and a large shared pool, as well as dry cask storage for spent fuel on site. Initially, Japan had planned a short period of spent fuel storage at the reactor site prior to reprocessing, but Japan's reprocessing facility has suffered long delays (scheduled to open in 2007, the facility is still not ready). This has caused spent fuel to build up at the plant's reactor sites.
Countries should include additional spent fuel storage in their nuclear power plans from the start, rather than creating ad hoc solutions after spent fuel has already begun to build up. Siting storage is a technical issue, but, importantly, also a social and politic
|Contact: Jayne Fairley|