After more than 20 years of non-action, the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission is reviewing its policies, regulations, guidance, and technical needs in several key areas, such as: retrievability, cladding integrity, and safe handling of spent fuel; criticality safety features and requirements for spent fuel transportation; and aging management and qualification of dual-purpose canisters and components after long-term storage.
In the United States, the regulations for the packaging and transport of spent nuclear fuel are separate from the requirements for the storage of spent nuclear fuel. This has lead to a loophole in regulations where no requirements are set for loaded storage casks to meet transportation requirements, which has contributed to uncertainty about the compatibility between storage and transportation regulations, and could potentially cause unanalyzed problems during the future handling of spent fuel.
Spent Fuel increases at a national scale by about 2,000 metric tons per year, and will likely be stored at nuclear power plants in the United States for the near future as there is no federal project for a national repository. Spent fuel pools contain more highly radioactive fuel than the reactor cores, and all of the spent fuel pools at U.S. nuclear plants are located outside the reactor containment structure.
The majority of U.S. nuclear reactors currently in operation will have ceased to be in action by 2040,and the options to dispose of spent fuel pool could be limited.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has estimated that many of the nuclear power plants in the United States will be out of room in their spent fuel pools by 2015, most likely requiring the use of temporary storage of some kind. Due to this shortage of pool space, plant operators have been forced to convert to more expensive dry cask storage. The transfer of spent fuel from wet to dry storage incurs inherent risks related to moving it, and accelerating the transfer of spent fuel could increase those risks.
According to 2010 statistics gathered by the Department of Energy, the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, operated by Southern California Edison, also is the storage site for more than 1,000 metric tons of spent fuel stored in pools, and another 360 tons in dry cask storage.