Our nuclear plants are no better designed than those in Japan. Twenty-three are Mark 1 boiling water reactors, identical to
Nor are our plants immune from natural or manmade disasters. Nearly half of the 104 reactors in the U.S. are near major fault lines. In August, a 5.8 earthquake 11 miles from Virginia's North Anna nuclear power plant, which is 70 miles from Washington D.C., rattled nerves in Baltimore and far beyond. The quake caused twice the amount of ground movement for which North Anna was designed. One backup generator failed. The presence of a geological fault below the reactors was known and covered up by the owners and regulators at the time of construction.
Twenty-seven reactors have not made adequate provisions for earthquake protection, including Indian Point, the nuclear reactor within 25 miles of
Any of these events could cause a loss of power, overheating of nuclear fuel, and a partial or full meltdown. Just as in Japan, an event in the spent fuel pool would be far worse than one in a reactor. Unlike the reactor core, which sits in a steel vessel surrounded by a primary steel and concrete container, the spent fuel pool is surrounded only by the easily breached secondary structure, which nuclear expert Robert Alvarez describes as a building "no more secure than a car dealership."
U.S. pools are generally more densely packed than in Japan. Vermont Yankee's pool contains two to three times the amount of spent fuel as
A National Academy of Science report recommended that fuel be moved to casks once sufficiently cooled. This has two inherent advantages over pool storage: "(1) It is a passive system that relies on natural air circulation for cooling; and (2) it divides the inventory of that spent fuel among a large number of discrete, robust containers." Critics of nuclear power agree: After five years, fuel from ponds should be moved into hardened onsite storage as the best option until the unlikely time a permanent repository is found.
The U.S. has 65,000 metric tons of nuclear waste, which we leave to our children in perpetuity. "You don't build a house without a toilet" said Jitsuro Terashima, president of the Japan Research Institute and a member of a panel advising the Japanese government. This anniversary is a good time to rethink how we should view our energy needs: consume less, manufacture products that are maximally energy efficient, promote renewables like wind and solar — and don't make more nuclear waste until we safely dispose of what we have made.