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There is a big difference between knowing and just thinking. Here is an example:

Recently a guest commentary was published concerning the storage of used nuclear fuel. The words used to describe the used fuel were “hot mess.” Hot, yes, when initially removed from the reactor.

The word mess can mean more than one thing. In the case of the nuclear fuel, it is not all over the place “in a mess.” Fuel handling is under very strict regulations and very precise.

Nuclear fuel is delivered already in the fuel assemblies ready to be placed in the reactor, and at the end of four to four and a half years is replaced with new fuel assemblies in rotation of about a third of the 193 assemblies inside the reactor, approximately every 18 months.

The fuel is in the form of a pellet about the size of one small candy. Each pellet is stacked vertically in the fuel assembly rods and looks exactly the same when removed from the reactor as they did being placed in the reactor.

Inside the reactor the fuel assemblies are surrounded by 96,000 gallons of purified, borated water, which is 43 feet high and weighs 433 tons with walls of low-carbon steel. The reactor is surrounded by 138-feet-deep concrete walls containing purified, borated water for shielding.

I was a tour guide for 23 years at Diablo Canyon. Guides are given a tour inside containment during a refueling of one of the units. We had training before being able to gain access to this location, plus we all had to have a full body count of the radiation already present in our bodies. Everyone has certain amounts of radiation in their bodies depending on where they live, what they do, what they eat.

When we exited the radiological controls area we were checked again to see if there was any increase of radiation. A couple of weeks later we all received a letter stating no increase.

Yes, the fuel is hot, but not forever, and the fuel assembly removal from the reactor is done through a canal filled with water into the fuel handling building that contains huge pools of purified/borated water 40 feet deep. The fuel assemblies are 12 feet high, 17 inches in diameter. The water is purified to remove most of the minerals as the water itself does not become radioactive, only the particles within. The boron is to absorb neutrons in the water. The water in the pools is flowing through a closed system to remove the heat from the fuel.

Those most unfamiliar with nuclear power don't know that all the radioactive fission fragments created by splitting the uranium 235 atom are different sizes, weight and have varying half-lives, from seconds to many years. At the end of 10 years 90 percent of the radiation has decayed. It’s gone. There is likely no other industry that knows where its by-product is stored safely and securely.

Essentially, the radioactive fission products will be gone in 600 years. What remains is essentially no more radioactive than natural uranium or thorium. What remains is much slower decaying, consequently not particularly harmful.

The used fuel at Diablo Canyon was transferred to dry storage above the plant where it had been stored in the spent fuel pools for 20 years. Nuclear used fuel stored by commercial power plants or the military has harmed no one. The military has safely shipped used nuclear fuel for years. The dry storage of used fuel is considered safely stored for 100 years.

It's up to the federal government to decide what and how to store the used fuel long term.

The new type of reactors essentially use up most of the fuel while producing the power.

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Ellie Ripley is a board member of Californians for Green Nuclear Power, and lives in Arroyo Grande.

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