The safe operation of America’s nuclear plants is the industry’s top priority. Multiple studies by leading third parties, such as The National Cancer Institute and The United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, have shown that the United States’ nuclear plants have no negative impact on the health of neighboring communities.
Nuclear plants are among the safest industrial facilities in the country due to highly-trained personnel, stringent federal regulations and continuous preventative maintenance. Plant workers are always monitoring radiation with extremely sensitive tools that can detect problems before they occur. Meanwhile, a wide range of innovative new safety technology is continuously being developed for nuclear plants, including designs that automatically turn themselves off as soon as they detect any issue, without requiring a human to initiate them.
The safe operation of each nuclear facility is also held accountable by full time professional, expert oversight from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, a federal agency created specifically to ensure that nuclear power plants are operated safely and to protect employees and their surrounding communities. At least two independent inspectors from the NRC are on-site every day at each nuclear energy facility to monitor facility operation.
Nuclear plants are also designed to withstand extreme weather conditions like tornadoes, blizzards, hurricanes, floods and power outages, not only protecting them against environmental threats, but also allowing them to provide critical power even under extreme circumstances.
One crucial component of these safety procedures is the removal and secure storage of used nuclear fuel assemblies, which are at the source of electricity generation within the plant and are replaced every four to six years. In the last 60 years, the United States has safely stored spent fuel without a threat to surrounding communities.
The nuclear energy industry safely contains the used nuclear fuel created and has a comprehensive system for managing used fuel that keeps both the public and environment safe, involving fortified, enclosed storage facilities where it can be safely contained indefinitely.
- Used nuclear fuel – composed of uranium pellets about the size of gummy bears – is a solid material that is stored on-site at the nation’s nuclear energy facilities in steel-lined, concrete pools, basins filled with water or in massive, airtight steel or concrete-and-steel canisters, which are well-designed to withstand extreme weather conditions.
- All the used nuclear fuel produced by the U.S. nuclear energy industry over 60 years of operation – approximately 86,000 metric tons – would, if stacked end to end, only cover an area the size of a football field to a depth of about ten yards.
- The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) determined that used fuel could be stored safely at nuclear energy facilities or central storage facilities for at least 100 years. Diligent monitoring and maintenance of safety systems ensures public health and safety are protected.
- More than 1,300 spent fuel shipments have been completed safely in the United States over the past 35 years without issue. And worldwide, there have been at least 20,000 safe shipments of more than 80,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel.
Nuclear Matters supports a comprehensive waste management plan that includes consolidated interim storage and a resolution for long-term geological disposal.
While current used fuel storage procedures are safe and secure, the development of advanced nuclear technology offers further possibilities for used fuel management. Advanced reactor designs have the potential to dramatically reduce the amount of used fuel that requires storage by using fuel more efficiently and even potentially consuming used fuel during operations. To learn more about the latest in nuclear energy advancements, check out our Innovation page or visit the online resources at the Nuclear Energy Institute.
If someone you know still has questions about used fuel, direct them to our site for the facts. And don’t forget to visit our Action page, where you can send your legislators the facts about nuclear energy with our pre-drafted email – all it takes is a couple clicks.