Indian Point To Begin Transferring Spent Fuel To Long-Term Storage

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Indian Point Nuclear Power Plants will begin moving spent nuclear fuel into long term dry cask storage.
Indian Point Nuclear Power Plants will begin moving spent nuclear fuel into long term dry cask storage. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Entergy Corporation

BUCHANAN, N.Y. – Indian Point Unit 3 received approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for a license amendment that will allow the plant operators, Entergy, to move spent fuel from the full pools into dry cask storage using a special crane procedure.

Dry cask storage allows nuclear fuel assemblies to be moved from the spent fuel pools into long-term, on-site storage containers. Without a federal nuclear waste repository, waste will continue to be stored at Indian Point Nuclear Power Plants into the foreseeable future.

"What they were faced with at Indian Point is that they did not have that kind of, a large enough crane for the Indian Point Unit 3 spent fuel pool on the order of able to lift 100 tons, which is what those casks weigh when they're filled," said NRC spokesperson Niel Sheehan. The weight is a combination of water and nuclear waste when they are lifted from the pool, accounting for the enormous weight the cranes must lift.

Normally, dry casks are filled from spent fuel pools by sinking the cask into the pool, filling them with 15-foot-long nuclear fuel assemblies underwater and removing the dry cask, full of water. The water is allowed to drain out of the cask and a lid it bolted or welded onto the cask. Dry casks hold 32 nuclear fuel assemblies. Nuclear waste remains hot and considered "spent" after about six years, after most of the uranium is depleted from the rods.

Indian Point Unit 3 must move these assemblies because the unit's spent fuel pool, which has a capacity for 1,345 assemblies, does not have enough room for the nearest refueling outage in which one-third of the reactor's 193 assemblies will be replaced.  One-third of the reactor's fuel is replaced every 18 months to two years.

Because Indian Point Unit 3 did not have a crane large enough to lift the dry casks that are filled to capacity, they will remove a portion of the spent fuel pool's approximately 1,345 fuel assemblies in a smaller dry cask, 12 at a time. The cask will then be transported to Indian Point Unit 2's spent fuel pool, where they will be placed into the pool and then transferred to a standard size dry cask for long-term storage on the plants' "pad."

Sheehan said the regulatory agency looked at all aspects of the plan before approving the license amendment. "We wanted to look at all the various aspects of these plants. We hit the company with numerous requests for additional information and did not proceed until we felt all our questions were addressed," he said.

David Lochbaum, director of the Nuclear Safety Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said he is happy to hear additional fuel assemblies will be placed into dry cask storage, as the multi-systemic nature of dry cask storage provides an additional level of safety with additional redundancies.

"What they should do is rather than keep those pools full of irradiated fuel is accelerate the transfer of those assemblies into dry casks," he said.

"There were close to 400 fuel bundles in dry casks at Fukushima that didn't cause a problem to anybody," he said about dry cask storage at the infamous Japanese facility, Fukushima Daiichi, which was flooded by a tsunami after an earthquake on March 11, 2011.

Lochbaum said the fuel assemblies are far more dangerous while being stored in spent fuel pools. "It's much more vulnerable to safety and security threats and one day our luck is going to run out," he said.

Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant officials could not be reached for comment. 

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What does ‘long-term storage’ mean exactly? I wonder if those of us who are slightly ignorant of nuclear power plants could be enlightened as to how long ‘long term’ actually is. And after the long term has been completed then what becomes of the spent fuel. I’m sure if I did some research on the internet I could find all the answers to my questions myself, however if there is someone who can explain in simple terms I would be grateful.