Pool Near U.S. City Contains More Radioactive Cesium than Released By Fukushima, Chernobyl and All Nuclear Bomb Tests COMBINED

George Washington's picture

Radioactive Fuel Fires: Not Just a Japanese Problem

The spent fuel pools at Fukushima are currently the top short-term threat to humanity.

But fuel pools in the United States store an average of ten times more radioactive fuel than stored at Fukushima, have virtually no safety features, and are vulnerable to accidents and terrorist attacks.

If the water drains out for any reason, it will cause a fire in the fuel rods, as the zirconium metal jacket on the outside of the fuel rods could very well catch fire within hours or days after being exposed to air. See this, this, this and this. (Even a large solar flare could knock out the water-circulation systems for the pools.)

The pools are also filling up fast, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission:

fig044 Fuel Pool 35 Miles from Major American City   which Is Highly Vulnerable to Earthquakes   Contains More Radioactive Cesium than Released By Fukushima, Chernobyl and All Nuclear Bomb Tests COMBINED

The New York Times notes that squeezing more rods into pools may increase the risk of fire:

The reactor operators have squeezed spent fuel more tightly into the pools, raising the heat load and, according to some analyses, raising the risk of fire if the pools were ever drained.

Indeed, the fuel pools and rods at Fukushima appear to have “boiled”, caught fire and/or exploded soon after the earthquake knocked out power systems. See this, this, this, this and this.

Robert Alvarez – a nuclear expert and a former special assistant to the United States Secretary of Energy – notes that there have also been many incidents within the U.S. involving fuel pools:

Even though they contain some of the largest concentrations of radioactivity on the planet, U.S. spent nuclear fuel pools are mostly contained in ordinary industrial structures designed to merely protect them against the elements. Some are made from materials commonly used to house big-box stores and car dealerships.




All spent fuel pools at nuclear power plants do not have steel-lined, concrete barriers that cover reactor vessels to prevent the escape of radioactivity. They are not required to have back-up generators to keep used fuel rods cool, if offsite power is lost.




For nearly 30 years, Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) waste-storage requirements have remained contingent on the opening of a permanent waste repository that has yet to materialize. Now that the Obama administration has cancelled plans to build a permanent, deep disposal site at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, spent fuel at the nation’s 104 nuclear reactors will continue to accumulate and are likely remain onsite for decades to come.


According to Energy Department data:

  • The spent fuel stored at 28 reactor sites have between 200-450 million curies of long-lived radioactivity;
  • 19 reactor sites have generated between 100-200 million curies in spent fuel; and,
  • 24 reactor sites have generated about 10-100 million curies.

Over the past 30 years, there have been at least 66 incidents at U.S. reactors in which there was a significant loss of spent fuel water. Ten have occurred since the September 11 terrorist attacks, after which the government pledged that it would reinforce nuclear safety measures. Over several decades, significant corrosion has occurred of the barriers that prevent a nuclear chain reaction in a spent fuel pool — some to the point where they can no longer be credited with preventing a nuclear chain reaction. For example, in June 2010, the NRC fined Florida Power and Light $70,000 for failing to report that it had been exceeding its spent fuel pool criticality safety margin for five years at the Turkey Point reactor near Miami. Because of NRC’s dependency on the industry self-reporting problems, it failed to find out that there was extensive deterioration of neutron absorbers in the Turkey Point pools and lengthy delays in having them replaced.


There are other strains being placed on crowded spent fuel pools. Systems required to keep pools cool and clean are being overtaxed, as reactor operators generate hotter, more radioactive, and more reactive spent rods. Reactor operators have increased the level of uranium-235, a key fissionable material in nuclear fuel to allow for longer operating periods. This, in turn, can cause the cladding, the protective envelope around a spent fuel rod, to thin and become brittle. It also builds higher pressure from hydrogen and other radioactive gases within the cladding, all of which adds to the risk of failure. The cladding is less than one millimeter thick (thinner than a credit card) and is one of the most important barriers preventing the escape of radioactive materials.




I co-authored a report in 2003 that explained how a spent fuel pool fire in the United States could render an area uninhabitable that would be as much as 60 times larger than that created by the Chernobyl accident. If this were to happen at one of the Indian Point nuclear reactors located 25 miles from New York City, it could result in as many as 5,600 cancer deaths and $461 billion in damages.


The U.S. government should promptly take steps to reduce these risks by placing all spent nuclear fuel older than five years in dry, hardened storage casks — something Germany did 25 years ago. It would take about 10 years at a cost between $3.5 and $7 billion to accomplish. If the cost were transferred to energy consumers, the expenditure would result in a marginal increase of less than 0.4 cents per kilowatt hour for consumers of nuclear-generated electricity.


Another payment option is available for securing spent nuclear fuel. Money could be allocated from $18.1 billion in unexpended funds already collected from consumers of nuclear-generated electricity under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act to establish a disposal site for high-level radioactive wastes.

This situation cannot be blamed on the nuclear industry alone (which wouldn’t exist without government subsidization of the nuclear industry). The U.S. government promised to come up with a permanent storage solution more than a decade ago, but has failed to do so. As nuclear affairs chief Terry Pickens for Xcel Energy correctly says:

We were able to get it where we thought we could make it to 1998, and they are still not performing. And now we still want to refuel and operate our reactors, so we have to make more space in the pools.

The New York Times noted in 2005:

Most of the plants now operating were designed to store fuel for only a few years, because engineers expected that it would either be recycled or buried. The Energy Department was supposed to begin accepting fuel for burial in 1998 but has not yet done so.




The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has repeatedly said that cask storage and pool storage are equally safe. On March 14, the commission’s chairman, Nils J. Diaz, told reporters that the pools ”are not easily breached structures.”


After an attack, they would be very easy to cool, he said. ”You get a couple of fire hoses, and spray them, and you have many, many hours,” he said, before there could be any radiological release, giving officials time to contain the problem.

That isn’t working out so well at Fukushima.

Single Pool Near Major American City Holds More Cesium than Fukushima, Chernobyl and all Nuclear Tests … Combined

Nuclear engineers David Lochbaum and Arnie Gundersen provide a stunning figure on the amount of radioactive fuel stored in the fuel pools at Pilgrim nuclear power plant in Plymouth, Massachusetts:

[There is] more radioactive Cesium in the Pilgrim Nuclear Plant’s spent fuel pool than was released by Fukushima, Chernobyl, and all nuclear bomb testing combined.


(And listen to this new must-hear interview with Gundersen).

The Pilgrim Nuclear plant is only 35 miles from downtown Boston.

According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Pilgrim has the second highest risk of damage from an earthquake of any American nuclear facility.

What could possibly go wrong?

Nuclear power can be safe, or it can be cheap … but it can’t be both. For example, we’ve previously noted:

Apologists for the nuclear power industry pretend there are no better alternatives, so we just have to suck it up and suffer through the Japanese nuclear crisis.


But this is wholly illogical. The truth is that we can store spent fuel rods in dry cask storage, which is much safer than the spent fuel rod pools used in Fukushima and many American reactors.


As the Nation pointed out:

Short of closing plants, there is a fairly reliable solution to the problem of spent fuel rods. It is called “dry cask storage.”




But there is a problem with dry cask storage: it costs money….

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geekgrrl's picture

This is not good.

Here's another site that has real-time earthquake mapping: http://quakes.globalincidentmap.com/

flattrader's picture

and Double Damn...

7:20a ET: M5.5 hits off Fukushima coast — Intensity 4 of 7 — Under 50 miles from Daiichi


The quakin and shakin just won't stop.

Bicycle Repairman's picture

Nuclear power plants are nothing more than dirty bombs awaiting detonation.

krispkritter's picture

Too bad we can't take all the money being spent on the forthcoming sham of a Deception, er, Election and entomb all the radioactive waste and all the candidates(RP excepted) in concrete and bury them at the facility that's already bought and paid for(Yucca).  Then take the money being spent in AF, the money pissed away on encircling Iran, and Obammy's crony-capitalist 'Green' failures and build one new Thorium reactor and solar power plant each year until 2030 just to get some breathing room.

flattrader's picture

RP is pro-nuke.  He thinks it is the "safest" form of energy.  Do some homwork on your candidate.

We should plug the door to the nuclear tomb with his body.

krispkritter's picture

I did my 'homwork' and know his stance. There is no perfect candidate for everyone, even if he believes it is 'a good thing' in the face of Fukushima and I don't necessarily agree I wouldn't pack him in with the rest of the talking shills running in either party. If you follow his stance and remove government subsidies of nuclear however, you'd probably end up with either more practical and safer nuclear plants/designs or none at all given that they wouldn't be economically viable. Also, if you weighed the deaths caused by pollution of water, air, and land from fossil fuels vs. deaths associated with nuclear energy I think you'd find nuclear is 'safer'. It still kills people  but it's kind of like no one notices that 30-50k people die in car wrecks every year but when 300 people die in a crash via the safest form of travel(air) people get freaked out even though they are rare compared to car accidents. But thanks for the reactive comment based on a personal opinion.

JustObserving's picture

So for how many centuries do we have to store these radioactive fuel rods?  What is the cost of this storage?  What is the chance of an accident in the next century?  

The costs of nuclear energy are far higher if you add in all the future and safety costs as Japan is finding out.


krispkritter's picture

Here's a great example: http://www.myfoxtampabay.com/dpp/news/local/nature_coast/crystal-river-nuclear-plant-may-close-06142011

They find the cracks, ask for a rate increase to fix it, drop $150 million,  two years later they are talking about 'closing' it down but they have to keep it 'running' because they have no backup plan for the spent fuel. So not only are the taxpayers paying to keep this potential bomb running in their backyard, they are footing the bill for the replacement power that it's not generating, and are on the hook ad infinitum for the cost of keeping a huge swimming pool going that no one can swim in. Oh yeah, somebody thought this through...

Urban Roman's picture

Fve or six.

The Cs137 and Sr90 have half lives of about thirty years. After twenty half lives their activity will be down to a millionth of what it is now.

Of course there are other longer lived isotopes, but these two have the most impact on the health of living things. You wouldn't be able to safely sit around and personally handle the spent fuel for millenia.

Bicycle Repairman's picture

It's not a matter of "if".   How many Fukushima/Chernobyls = end game?  So far it appears that there will be one every 25 years.

Simit Patel's picture

everything is relative. compare the deaths from nuclear to the deaths from other sources of energy currently in use. for bonus points, run the equation at scale. remember if you rely exclusive on solar and wind a few billion will die in the process due to insufficient energy output.  

Walt D.'s picture

Simit - you don't get it. Don't you understand that 1 person dying from raditaion poisoning is worse that 15,000 dying in a tsunami or 600,000 dying in an earthquake.

Don't you realize that the Obama Yugo (Chevy Volt) is an emission free vehicle and that you are supposed to ignore the CO2 emissions belching from the coal powered power plant in Utah that generates the electricity to charge it, or the emissions from the refinery that produces the gas that it has to run on after the battery goes flat after 20 miles (or the CO2 burning this gas to power your car for the rest of the trip).

You need to take a course on Enviro Think. If that does not work, take a course on Enviro Double Think.

Dr Benway's picture

LOL so true about one radiation death being so much more terrible than 400,000 dead in tsunamis or malaria.

Umh's picture

It still makes sense to make nuclear power usage as safe as practical.

spinone's picture

Are you intentionally missing the point?  There are safer reactor designs, like Thorium reactors, that we could use.  Because of DOE policy, we have Mark 1 reactors all over that produce fissionable material but are not inherently safe.

Simit Patel's picture

are you intentionally missing the point? this article is more about shutting down uranium-based nuclear, not about graduating to thorium. i'm simply saying that for now, in terms of what we have that the world is designed to work with, uranium-based nuclear is the best all around. if not, then what? thorium is in the future, and i'm not opposed to migrating towards it. 

geekgrrl's picture

"in terms of what we have that the world is designed to work with, uranium-based nuclear is the best all around."

Best all around at what? Killing people? This thinking makes no sense. Now that we know the real reason uranium-based nuclear was chosen was for generating weapons material, how on earth could it be "the best all around"?  It is a technology that never should have been developed and Fukushima is proof positive that claims of safety were wildly wrong.

I think thorium is just more techno-mystical thinking and prone to different, but equally concerning short-medium term risks that are being rationalized with the most ludicrous claims of safety, claims that we now see are empty. As far as I'm concerned, utilities are not to be trusted, and I want to see all these nuclear plants shut down pronto. Sorry, nuclear boosters lost the argument and now have no credibility. In light of Fukushima, I think you have a lot of nerve to come here and try to sell yet another dangerous technology when everyone can see for themselves that utilities don't give a damn if people downwind of their "accidents" die.

Doubleguns's picture

" rationalized with the most ludicrous claims of safety, claims that we now see are empty."

Have you really ever looked at thorium reaction?

No I did not junk you.


geekgrrl's picture

Yes, I've looked at thorium, but why should we believe that thorium reactors would be run any differently than the uranium ones? It still creates all the same kind of damage from mining, and still uses a variety of systems that are used in uranium reactors. Also, 900 degree F liquid fluoride salts have got to be darned corrosive.

The big problem I have with nuclear is that it's centralized power. I find it a bit surprising that folks here think that centralized power is a good thing for nuclear, but bad for banking. Seems a bit contradictory to me. From what I've seen, the entire nuclear industry has made the same claims of safety over and over again, even in the face of Fukushima, which they dismiss with a wave of their hand, completely denying the facts on the ground. So you'll have to excuse my distrust of claims of nuclear safety, but I think the industry's lack of honesty about plant risks has backfired on them.

It is abundantly clear that the spent fuel pools around the country are dangerously overloaded, yet this gets excused by nuclear proponents as "nothing to see here, just move along." Well I've had it with all the lies, propaganda, and mischaracterization of risk.

geekgrrl's picture

BTW, I didn't junk you either. "Dr." Benway, on the other hand has received many junks from me.

geekgrrl's picture

It's interesting that the nuclear industry is not just observing the conversations on ZH, but trying to push them. Fuck you, junkers.

Ratscam's picture

before commenting please research yourself.
Here i did it for you: Thorium was used from the 1950,s through 1970's!
Talking about another totally corrupt industry with total lack of empathy for other people. Here directly from the famous IAEA.

Winston Smith 2009's picture

Best thorium reactor site for info:


Among other things, see the great Google Tech Talk linked to there entitled “Why Didn’t Thorium MSR Happen?” It'll explain why we ended up on the uranium fuel cycle rather than the thorium one. Hell, the guy who _patented the uranium light water reactor_ strongly desired that we transition to thorium because the uranium pressurized water reactor was and is such an inefficient and dangerous _kludge_ that is perpetually an accident waiting to happen. He was a huge advocate for thorium, but for various accidents of history and _politics_, that didn't happen many years ago when it could and should have.

smiler03's picture

And this is excellent reading too for thorium reactors, they aren't as perfect as some people think they are. A quick summary is:


Thorium reactors do not eliminate problems 

The bottom line is this.  Thorium reactors still produce high-level  radioactive waste. They still pose problems and opportunities for the proliferation of nuclear weapons. They still present opportunities for catastrophic accident scenarios -- as potential targets of terrorist or military attack, for example.



Ratscam's picture

An RPG attack on any of these nuclear power plants could trigger a mass exodus of an entire state. And this is definitely a bigger threat than a media hyped Iran issue or even the dubious 911 events.

connda's picture

What an interesting way to depopulate the country.  Unlike Japan, I don't think the locals would hang out to be irradiated.   So after a decentralize attack on these sites, the US capital could move to Honolulu, Hawaii and the government could rule a country without a population.  Then they could take a page out of Israel's playbook, and attempt to resettle the population in Libya, Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan.  Wow!  It all makes sense!

/sarc off

Bicycle Repairman's picture

I wonder what the level of security is at these nuclear facilities versus, say, the typical airport.

De minimus's picture

Let's put it this way. There are some locations where your safety is not an option.

LongSoupLine's picture

If you're speaking of the psychological effect of an RPG attack on a facility, then yes.

The real physical effect of an RPG would be superficial at best.

Bicycle Repairman's picture

Are the control facilities for these plants also protected by several feet of reinforced concrete?  How about the storage pools?  How about the barrels of nuclear waste lying around in the parking lot?

Ratscam's picture

sorry your wrong, for this read Holger Strohm and Dr.Dr. Dr. Vladimir Chernousenko and others. These old nuclear reactors were built before War (is) on Terror, hence the emphasis on containing possible inside pressure and not pressure coming from the outside.

Dr Benway's picture

But of course, Dr. Dr. Dr. Vladimir is three times the doctor I am, LOL!

Dr Benway's picture

LOL bullshit. Have you ever visited a reactor? The several feet of reinforced concrete would deflect an RPG like it was nothing.

Urban Roman's picture

It doesn't have to penetrate the concrete, all it has to do is knock out the cooling pumps.

steve from virginia's picture


As was demonstrated at Fukushima, all that is necessary is to knock out a few key functions:

 - offsite power

 - backup generators

 - service water pumps and water control structures

 - condensers

Almost all of these are contained in metal industrial sheds no different from those used for backyard storage. Some items such as offsite power connections are out in the open, completely unprotected. There is usually a cyclone fence.

 - The cables between the control room and the reactor itself have been the source of troubles in multiple US reactor incidents.

 - Reactor containment structures cannot contain an explosion within.

 - Newer designs such as AP-1000 GE PWR have 1/3d less concrete and steel and fewer redundant safety features. The goal has been to design a cheaper reactor not a safer one.

 - Cost issues inevitably lead to suppliers cutting corners and stretching specs on important parts:


Don't need a grenade, just a careless employee w/ a forklift.

krispkritter's picture

Re: Cost cutting. The article I referenced below in regards to the Crystal River plant didn't mention that the utility actually caused the cracks in the containment building because they were trying to cut corners and did the work without employing engineers outside the company. Anticipated savings $15 million. Cost to fix, estimated at $2.5 billion...way to go Progress...

Bicycle Repairman's picture

That reinforced concrete, is it as tough as the zirconium cladding that stopped the Fukushima meltdown?

Ratscam's picture

An old RPG used in the 80is such as the AT-14 Spriggan can penetrate 4 feet of reinforced steel, double that for reinforced concrete. The wall thickness of old nuclear reactors is only 2-3 feet. Go figure using a newer model on a new reactor with wall thickness of just 7-8 feet.

LongSoupLine's picture

holy crap...that's WAY off.  Having done CIP analysis with Army Corp of Engineers, I can say you all better stop while you're behind.

LowProfile's picture


An old RPG used in the 80is such as the AT-14 Spriggan can penetrate 4 feet of reinforced steel, double that for reinforced concrete. The wall thickness of old nuclear reactors is only 2-3 feet. Go figure using a newer model on a new reactor with wall thickness of just 7-8 feet.


Your hyperbole is not helping your argument.

Bicycle Repairman's picture


Is it harder to obtain?  How many would it take?

RECISION's picture

An old RPG used in the 80is such as the AT-14 Spriggan can penetrate 4 feet of reinforced steel


4 inches maybe

Ratscam's picture

in case you,re lazy going through the list, it,s at the very end under penetration depth. Guys please DO your own research before trolling.

RECISION's picture

You're an idiot.

Do your own research.

A Kornet(AT-14 Spriggan) is NOT an RPG


That search took five seconds to do.

And a little more search got the info that 1000-1200mm is a "claim".

You show me where there is independent verification of that.


And by the way: an ATGM is an - Anti Tank GUIDED Missile.

A RPG(Rocket Propelled Grenade) is Not guided. And is MUCH smaller than a Kornet.




RECISION's picture


In your own link - it says point blank:


AT-14 SPRIGGAN (9M133 Kornet)

9M133-1 Kornet-E

Year: 1994

1994 -1994 -1994 -1994 -1994


You know, as in it didn't exist before 1994.

Where as you said:

An old RPG used in the 80is such as the AT-14 Spriggan can penetrate 4 feet of reinforced steel.


The best you can get for an RPG is this:


Designed in 1988 is not the same as used in the 80's.

And estimated to have an effective range of 100 metres - would it even make it over the perimeter fence?


In your case it is probably better to stay quiet and be suspected of being an idiot, rather than open your mouth and remove all doubt.

RECISION's picture

ohh, and...

...can penetrate 4 feet of reinforced steel.

Say what...???

Reinforced steel???

What the fuck is reinforced steel?

I know what "Rolled Homogenous Armour" is.

Which is what the penetration claims are against.



...your ignorance and arrogance is dazzling.

Bicycle Repairman's picture

Does Hezbollah possess any Kornets?

Bicycle Repairman's picture

OK.  So potential terrorists have possessed Kornets.  Kornets have a 5KM range.  So all nuclear plants need a 5 KM security perimeter.

Dr Benway's picture

Nuclear power plants can withstand the impact of a 767 jet. So I think you'd have to have quite a few RPGs to cause catastrophic damage, lol.