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Fukushima warning: US has 'utterly failed' to address risk of spent fuel

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The reason is the lack of a national repository for spent fuel – meaning it must be stored on site – as well as the lack of a coherent nationwide policy, experts told Congress Wednesday.

"From the history of our nuclear power program, storage of spent fuel – between the reactor and the presumed repository – has been an afterthought," said Ernest Moniz, a nuclear expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, at a Senate hearing. "It has not really been part of our serious policy discussion about fuel cycle design."

"What we need to do is to stand back and say: What is our whole integrated system?" he added. "We should really start thinking hard about that view."

Warnings years ago

The risks posed by spent fuel held in such pools are hardly new or unknown. A 2006 study by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) warned Congress and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) that spent fuel pools were vulnerable to terrorist attack, with some nuclear plant designs more than others. With water gone from the pools, the spent fuel could easily catch fire and see "the release of large quantities of radioactive materials to the environment," the study found.

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