US Nuclear; Failing Casks, Cracked Concrete And Foot Dragging On Safety

30 of the US’s 100+ nuclear plants have ordered spent fuel pool water level monitoring systems. The issue of this kind of equipment came up again during hurricane Sandy as both members of the public and experts questioned if the nuclear plants impacted by the storm had upgraded spent fuel pool equipment.

The new equipment to monitor and provide water to the pool was suggested by the post Fukushima committee that looked at what failed and could fail at US reactors. It is not clear if the remaining units in the US have not ordered such equipment or have already ordered such equipment. The water level monitoring system is only part of the suggested upgrades and comes with a 7 day battery pack.

Dry Casks Failing In The US
The NRC found multiple incidents where water has caused partial failure of the seals on dry casks of spent nuclear fuel. Casks at Peach Bottom and Three Mile Island were found to have water damage. A cask at Peach Bottom leaked a small amount of helium in 2010 after water corroded the cask seal. The NRC claims the manufacturer improved the design but did not say if casks with the old design have had their seals replaced.

An NRC proposal floated in 2012 suggested that spent fuel should be stored in casks at the various nuclear plant sites for as long as 100 years or more as a solution to the spent fuel disposal problem. During one public meeting to discuss the plan the NRC reps were asked how long these casks were rated for in storage life. Their answer, 20 years. This was the last that was heard of this plan by the NRC. Now it is found that some of these casks already being used have poor quality seals.

Three Mile Island Still A Problem
A concrete storage structure at Idaho National Lab that holds the spent fuel and some other core debris from the Three Mile Island meltdown is cracking. The structure was installed in 1999. In 2007 it was found that the freeze thaw cycle of water that infiltrated the concrete had begun to crack the structure. Some action was taken to try to stop the problem and a monitoring program was put in place to try to catch further degradation.

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