Why a West Texas Nuclear Dump May Be a Short-Term Fix

The National Academy of Sciences warns regulators have underestimated the risk.

By Michael O'Brien June 28, 2016 9:58 am| , ,

From KUT

A West Texas site wants to get its hands on the nation’s spent nuclear fuel. And if a National Academy of Sciences report is to be believed, this may be safer than the status quo.

Spent nuclear fuel rods are about the width of a Sharpie, a few yards long and deadly for hundreds of thousands of years. And, even after 60 years of commercial nuclear power, the Department of Energy (DOE) has no storage plan.

Waste Control Specialists in Andrews County — currently storing contaminated rags, gloves, and other low-level nuclear waste — submitted an application in April which would allow them to receive high-level spent fuel.

The fuel would sit on-site, entombed in concrete-steel casks, until the DOE comes up with a permanent solution.

“These casks are impressive products of engineering design,” said Erich Schneider, Nuclear Systems Engineer at the University of Texas at Austin.

You can find videos online that show these casks being “propelled by a rocket and then slammed into a concrete wall” at 100 miles per hour and remaining intact, he said.

These 150-ton casks can safely hold the nuclear material for 100 years, and many power-plants are already storing some of their spent fuel on-site in these casks.

But the majority of spent fuel is sits near the reactor in 45-foot deep, industrial grade pools.

Spent fuel is so hot when it comes out of the reactor that it has to sit submerged for a few years before it can be safely transported or even placed in those casks. But, water is actually a really strong radiation shield, Schneider said.

You could probably swim in the pool – if you had to.

“If you stayed near the top you might be alright,” Schneider said.

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