Official: Disaster risk very low from spent Big Rock fuel
This photo provided by Entergy, shows the independent spent fuel storage installation at the former site of the Big Rock Point Nuclear Power plant. (COURTESY PHOTO)
Although grave, the accident in Japan is two orders of magnitude lower than the 1986 Chernobyl incident, Dr. Wolfgang Bauer, chairperson of the department of physics and astronomy at Michigan State University told the Petoskey News-Review in an interview last week.
"With the amount of radiation that's released right now from there (Japan), even with the most sensitive equipment, you would not be able to measure anything here (in Michigan)," said Bauer.
While most area residents may take comfort in knowing the disaster half a world away won't likely affect us here, some may wonder about the risk of a natural disaster causing a similar problem with the spent nuclear fuel that is still stored just a few miles north of town on the site of where the Big Rock Nuclear Power Plant once stood.
The short answer is: It's just about as unlikely as radiation from Japan reaching us here.
Although part of the problem crews in Japan's nuclear power plants are facing is keeping water on spent nuclear fuel rods, there's a big difference between that spent fuel and what's stored near Big Rock Point, a spokesman for the company that now owns the Big Rock site said.
Mark Savage, a spokesman at for Entergy Corporation based at its Palisades nuclear energy plant near South Haven said the spent fuel at the Big Rock site was once stored in pools just like the spent fuel in danger at the plants in Japan. However, that's where the similarities end.
While the fuel at the plant in Japan is still giving off enough heat that it must be cooled by water to avoid overheating, the spent fuel at the Big Rock site has cooled enough that the heat that it still gives off can be dissipated just by the air that flows through the dry casks in which it is now stored.
"This is a completely passive system with no moving parts, pumps or motors involved. Radiation energy is blocked by the dense steel and concrete containers that make up the system," Savage said in an e-mailed response to questions from the Courier last week.
As for natural disasters, even though Northern Michigan is not prone to earthquakes or tsunamis like Japan and other parts of the U.S., Savage said, "The cask system is designed to withstand a host of natural disasters, including a tornado and anomalies on Lake Michigan such as storm surges and seiches. The storage system was designed with these worst-case scenarios built in."
He also noted that the storage pad site (also known as an independent spent fuel storage installation) is fenced and protected 24/7 by a security force.
The spent fuel stored at Big Rock Point is expected to remain on the site until the federal government's nuclear waste storage facility becomes available, which likely will be many years from now.