Mass and Volume of Spent Nuclear Fuel – NRC Response

I recently wrote a post on the Mass and Volume of Spent Nuclear Fuel. Roberto Kersevan pointed out in a comment that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) arrive at a very different figure to myself. I therefore wrote to the NRC to point out their mistake. Here is their response as promised:


Thank you for your comments on our radioactive waste brochure. I understand your point that proper storage of the spent fuel volume characterized in the brochure requires considerably more space than the actual volume of the fuel itself. While this brochure was written long before I came to work at the NRC, it appears to me that the author’s intention was to illustrate the volume of the fuel itself, not the volume required for its storage.

This information would have been accurate in 2002, when the brochure was published. I expect we will revise and update it in the next year or so. As we do, we will keep your comments in mind.


Maureen Conley
NRC Office of Public Affairs

It is nothing too exciting – I am not sure how their brochure was correct in 2002 and not correct now.


P.S. My email to them was:

I am referring to the document

On page 13 your document states:

“If all the 160,000 spent fuel assemblies currently in storage were assembled in one place, they would only cover a football field about 5
1/2 yards high.”

Not only is this statement very misleading (particularly if aimed at the general public) it is factually incorrect.

As the NRC knows well, such assemblies require much wider spacing and boron spacers to dissipate the decay heat and avoid the possibility of re-criticality. This is outlined in many NUREG documents.

There is no way that such a configuration of assemblies could be constructed – it could catch fire, melt or even explode a long time before it was complete.

If you quoted the size if the fuel assemblies were stored in dry cask then it would be a sky scrapper of about 800 feet high. If you considered the volume taken up in any proposed geological disposal facility it would be several miles high.

Although this sentence could be easily re-written so that it was factually correct it could still be very misleading.

It disappoints me that, for what is meant to be an independent body, the NRC plays down the problem of spent nuclear fuel in such a serious way.

I would like to know what the NRC are going to do about this factual inaccuracy in their document and how they intend to explain the real volume of spent nuclear fuel to the public.

Yours faithfully
Peter Lux


3 Responses to “Mass and Volume of Spent Nuclear Fuel – NRC Response”

  • Roberto Kersevan says:

    Strange… I thought I had replied to this nonsense back then… anyway, since I’m mentioned here it is a commentary:

    “As the NRC knows well, such assemblies require much wider spacing and boron spacers to dissipate the decay heat and avoid the possibility of re-criticality. ”

    Re-criticality? Pleeeeease!… there is no criticality possible in spent fuel rods which have spent a few years in a cooling pond, like it always happens before storage.

    Only residual heat is an issue, and it can be taken care of by dilution of the spent fuel material, a 1/10 dilution would mean that 10 football fields over 5 and 1/2 yards high would be necessary to store all of the spent fuel… big deal for a country with a size of 9 million square km… or 1.67 billion football fields.

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