BUCHANAN, N.Y. – Indian Point Nuclear Power Plants began transporting spent nuclear fuel assemblies from the unit 3 reactor pool on Sunday to long-term dry cask storage for the first time since 1975.
Workers anticipate moving 192 spent fuel assemblies from the unit 3 pool to the unit 2 pool, and 96 assemblies to dry cask storage over the next several months, according to a release from Entergy.
The move is in preparation for a scheduled reactor refueling. During refueling, about 63 spent fuel assemblies will be removed from the reactor and placed into the spent fuel pool for unit 3. Those uranium depleted assemblies will be replaced by new assemblies in the reactor.
Some critics of the plants, such as David Lochbaum, director of the Nuclear Safety Project for the Union of Concerned Scientists, have said the plant should put as many of the 15-foot long assemblies into sealed dry casks as possible. Lochbaum argues the increased number of systems involved in storing the assemblies, in this case casks versus the unit 3's pool, increases redundancies and safety.
Jerry Nappi, spokesperson for Indian Point, wrote in an email that, "Outage prep work will limit space in the unit 3 fuel storage building and be the focus of the personnel who are involved in the fuel movement campaign," thus limiting time and space available to move the assemblies.
The upcoming refueling forces Indian Point to move assemblies because the unit's spent fuel pool, which has capacity for 1,345 assemblies, does not have enough room to accommodate about 63 spent fuel rods that must be stored in the pools for at least five years, while they cool. One-third of each reactor's fuel is replaced every 18 months to two years.
Entergy began moving spent fuel from unit 2’s spent fuel pool to dry cask storage in 2007. There are 448 assemblies from unit 2 and 160 assemblies from unit 1 currently stored in 19 casks on the storage pad on site. The storage pad has been operating since 2007.
Although Entergy officials said the fuel movement is a "historical milestone" that allows Indian Point Unit 3 “to continue operating well into the future," the movement and storage of the spent fuel has become a target of recent criticism.
From an appeals court decision that overturned the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) generic safety finding for all on-site spent fuel storage, to a sweeping suit filed by an Indian Point security guard, part of which alleges the "pad" where casks are stored is poorly lit, legal actions have focused on spent fuel storage at the plant.
Contentions, or challenges, to the plants' license renewal that address spent fuel were suspended until the NRC can complete a new generic safety finding for storing spent fuel on-site at nuclear facilities, known as a "waste confidence decision."