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Suggested Citation:"1.4.3 Spent Fuel Inventories." National Research Council. 2006. Safety and Security of Commercial Spent Nuclear Fuel Storage: Public Report. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11263.

refueling operations, because this is when larger quantities of higher heat-generating spent fuel are placed into the pool.

Current U.S. regulations require that spent fuel be stored in the power plant’s fuel pool for at least one year after its discharge from the reactor before being moved to dry storage. After that time the spent fuel can be moved, but only with active cooling. Active cooling is generally necessary for about three years after the spent fuel is removed from the reactor core (USNRC, 2003b).

When a spent fuel pool is filled to capacity, older fuel, which has lower decay-heat, is moved to other pools or placed into dry casks Heat generated in the loaded dry casks is removed by air convection and thermal radiation. The cask provides shielding of penetrating radiation and confinement of the radionuclides in the spent fuel. As with pool storage, criticality control is accomplished by placing the fuel in a fixed geometry and separating individual fuel assemblies with neutron absorbers. Standard industry practice is to place in dry storage only spent fuel that has cooled for five years or more after discharge from the reactor,12 Most spent fuel in wet or dry storage is located at nuclear power plant sites (i.e., on-site storage).

There are significant differences in the design and construction of wet and dry storage installations at commercial nuclear power plants. The characteristics depend on the type of the nuclear power plant, the age of the spent fuel storage installation, or the type of dry casks used. The design and features of spent fuel pools and dry storage facilities are discussed in Chapters 3 and 4, respectively.

1.4.3 Spent Fuel Inventories

As of 2003, approximately 50,000 MTU (metric tons of uranium) of spent fuel have been generated over the past four decades in the United States. A typical nuclear power plant generates about 20 MTU per year. The entire U.S. nuclear industry generates about 2000 MTU per year.

Of the approximately 50,000 MTU of commercial spent fuel in the United States, 43,600 MTU are currently stored in pools and 6200 MTU are in dry storage. Pool storage exists at all 65 sites with operating commercial nuclear power reactors13 and at 8 sites where commercial power reactors are no longer operating (i.e., they have been shut down or decommissioned) (FIGURE 1.3). Additionally, there is an away-from-reactor spent fuel pool operating at the G.E.Morris Facility in Illinois (see Appendix D).

Of the spent fuel in dry storage, 4500 MTU are in storage at 22 sites with operating commercial nuclear power reactors, and 1700 MTU are in storage at 6 sites where the commercial reactors are no longer operating. An additional dry-storage facility is operated by the federal government at the Idaho National Laboratory. It stores most of the damaged fuel from the Three Mile Island Unit 2 reactor accident.


Fuel aged as little as three years could be stored in passively cooled casks, but fewer assemblies could be accommodated in each cask because of the higher heat load.


There are 103 operating commercial nuclear power reactors in the United States. Many sites have more than one operating reactor.

Suggested Citation:"1.4.3 Spent Fuel Inventories." National Research Council. 2006. Safety and Security of Commercial Spent Nuclear Fuel Storage: Public Report. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11263.
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Safety and Security of Commercial Spent Nuclear Fuel Storage: Public Report Get This Book
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In response to a request from Congress, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Department of Homeland Security sponsored a National Academies study to assess the safety and security risks of spent nuclear fuel stored in cooling pools and dry casks at commercial nuclear power plants. The information provided in this book examines the risks of terrorist attacks using these materials for a radiological dispersal device. Safety and Security of Commercial Spent Nuclear Fuel is an unclassified public summary of a more detailed classified book. The book finds that successful terrorist attacks on spent fuel pools, though difficult, are possible. A propagating fire in a pool could release large amounts of radioactive material, but rearranging spent fuel in the pool during storage and providing emergency water spray systems would reduce the likelihood of a propagating fire even under severe damage conditions. The book suggests that additional studies are needed to better understand these risks. Although dry casks have advantages over cooling pools, pools are necessary at all operating nuclear power plants to store at least the recently discharged fuel. The book explains it would be difficult for terrorists to steal enough spent fuel to construct a significant radiological dispersal device.

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