Used nuclear fuel is stored at the nation's nuclear power plants in steel-lined, concrete pools or basins filled with water or in massive, airtight steel or concrete-and-steel canisters.
Safe Temporary Storage in Water-Filled Pools
Used nuclear fuel is in storage at the nation’s nuclear energy facilities. Most plants store used fuel in steel-lined, concrete pools filled with water, which acts as a natural barrier for radiation. The water also keeps the fuel cool while radiation decays. The water itself does not leave the used fuel pool.
Watch NEI's video tutorial below on spent fuel storage in pools at nuclear energy plants.
Post-Fukushima Safety Improvements
Used fuel has been safely stored at nuclear energy facilities for about 50 years. The March 2011 accident at Fukushima Daiichi in Japan—where used fuel in pool storage survived an earthquake and tsunami without significant damage—serves as a testimonial to the robust design of storage pools.
The U.S. nuclear energy industry has incorporated lessons learned from the accident by installing more sophisticated instruments to monitor fuel storage pool conditions.
Storage Space Grows Tight at Plant Sites
The original design and construction of nuclear energy facilities provided for used fuel storage for a decade or two, not for long-term storage. Federal law required the U.S. Department of Energy to begin moving used fuel from plant sites in 1998, but it has not yet begun to do so.
As a result, many nuclear plants have run out of pool storage capacity. At these plants, used fuel is stored above ground in massive, airtight canisters made of steel, steel-reinforced concrete or steel-enclosed concrete. Diligent monitoring and maintenance of safety systems ensures the safety of these containers.
Watch NEI's video tutorial below on dry cask storage for spent fuel at nuclear energy plants.
Proposed Consolidated Storage
NEI supports development of a consolidated storage facility for used nuclear fuel in a willing host community and state, while making substantial progress toward developing the Yucca Mountain site and/or a second geologic repository.
A consolidated storage facility would enable the Energy Department or a new management entity to move used nuclear fuel from shutdown and operating plants long before a repository or recycling facilities begin operating. Used fuel from decommissioned commercial reactor sites without an operating reactor should have priority when shipping commercial used fuel to the temporary storage facility.