Washington (May 26, 2017) – Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) reintroduced legislation this week aimed at improving the storage of spent nuclear fuel at nuclear plants across the nation. 


When spent nuclear fuel is removed from the part of the reactor that generates electricity, it continues to produce significant quantities of heat and radiation for years. Spent nuclear fuel is so hot that it must be cooled in spent fuel pools for five to seven years before it can be transferred to dry cask storage. A study by Princeton University published this week shows how the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) relied on bad analysis to justify its refusal to adopt a critical measure for protecting Americans from nuclear-waste fires at dozens of reactor sites around the country. The study discusses how radioactivity from such a fire could release large quantities of radiation, cause widespread contamination and force millions of Americans to relocate, resulting in $2 trillion in damages.


An analysis by one of the authors of the study showed that a hypothetical spent-fuel fire at the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station could result in the release of radioactive fall-out across a large swathe of New England. The study notes that moving the fuel to dry casks would drastically cut the risk of such a fire, and reduce possible radioactive release by 99 percent. However, NRC regulations allow spent fuel to remain stored in spent fuel pools until the reactor is shut down and completes decommissioning, which can take as long as 60 years. Current NRC regulations also allow the NRC and the nuclear plant operator to adopt a decommissioning plan without considering the concerns of nearby states and communities. The two bills will address all of these problems.


“Overcrowded spent nuclear fuel pools like the one at Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station are a disaster waiting to happen,” said Senator Markey, a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, which has jurisdiction over the NRC. “Pilgrim’s spent fuel pool contains nearly four times more radioactive waste than it was originally designed to hold. We need the NRC to post the ‘Danger’ sign outside these fuel pools and ensure dangerous nuclear waste is moved to safer storage before a nuclear disaster occurs.”


“Around the world there is growing concern about the dangers of nuclear power,” said Senator Sanders. “In my view, we cannot sit idly by and hope that the unthinkable will never happen. We must take action to better secure nuclear waste in a safe and responsible way. The public deserves to know that safety is the single most important priority at nuclear power plants.”


The Dry Cask Storage Act would ensure that every nuclear reactor operator complies with an NRC-approved plan that would require the safe removal of spent nuclear fuel from the spent fuel pools and place that spent fuel into dry cask storage within seven years of the time the plan is submitted to the NRC. The legislation also provides funding to help reactor licensees implement the plans and expands the emergency planning zone for non-compliant reactor operators to 50 miles.


A copy of the legislation can he found HERE.