It’s been two years since the nuclear disaster at Fukushima, a catastrophic event that decimated the lives and livelihoods of some 160,000 Japanese citizens with an estimated economic loss of up to a half a trillion dollars. Here in the United States, Fukushima heightened public concern and provided a rallying point for stronger nuclear safety measures. But the industry, its allies in Congress, and nuclear regulators have been dragging their feet—seemingly dead-set against anything that might cost money, even if it would better protect the public. Some want us to believe that what happened in Japan can’t happen here. The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) know that’s not true. In the United States, tens of thousands of tons of radioactive waste from nuclear power plants is being stored in unsafe, insecure, overcrowded “spent fuel” pools at more than 70 reactor sites across the country. Thinning out these pools and putting more of the waste into on-site steel and concrete containers called dry casks is much safer. Dry casks stored at reactor sites are much less vulnerable to severe weather and terrorist attacks. And dry casks use simple air circulation for cooling and therefore can’t “fail” in a power outage, in contrast with the spent fuel pools’ complex emergency back-up systems that require electricity. Right now, a bipartisan group in the Senate is drafting a comprehensive nuclear waste bill—one that we insist must include strong provisions to better manage the waste that we already have. Please tell your senators (check the UCS website) that it is essential that any nuclear waste legislation not only include strong provisions concerning the management of near-term nuclear waste, but also require the accelerated transfer of this dangerous, radioactive waste from spent fuel pools to much safer, on-site dry cask storage.
Peter R. Mitchell