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Union of Concerned Scientists Says Nuke Plants Should Have 16 Hours of Reserve Battery Power

Center recommends 24 Hours of Battery Power

David Lochbaum
David Lochbaum of the Union of Concerned Scientists told members of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology that some nuclear plants keep four hours of battery power in case primary and secondary power systems fail is not sufficient.  Lochbaum recommended at the congressional hearing that plants should extend battery capacity to 16 hours, giving workers more time to restore cooling power. The Center recommends 24 hours of extended capacity.

These recommendations are in response to the loss of backup power at the Fukushim Daiichi nuclear power facility in Japan.  At Fukushima, a powerful earthquake knocked out primary power, and a subsequent tsunami wiped out backup diesel generators. On-site batteries depleted within eight hours, leaving workers with no power to cool the cores of three nuclear reactors. After they ran out of battery power, there was no way to cool the reactors and hydrogen explosions and serious damage resulted at three of the reactors.  If U.S. nuclear power plants should lose primary and backup power — as happened in March at the Fukushima Daiichi facility in Japan — batteries are designed to kick in and prevent nuclear fuel from melting.

U.S. nuclear plants are required to maintain two backup diesel generators for each reactor.


At Fukushima, water drained from spent fuel pools and the fuel heated up, releasing intense radiation that hampered work at the site. The exposed fuel also might have triggered the explosions that seriously damaged the buildings housing reactors Units 1, 3 and 4.  At the hearing, Lochbaum recommended that U.S. plant operators transfer fuel from water-cooled pools to safer, passively air-cooled storage units called dry casks. A dry cask storage unit at Fukushima, which contains more used fuel than the water pools, has remained safe and has released no radiation despite the disaster.

The Center believes Yucca Mountain should be developed as soon as possible in order to transfer spend fuel from America's nuclear reactors.  The Center disagrees with the Obama administration's decision to shutter Yucca Mountain.  A “blue ribbon” Energy Department commission established by Obama in January 2010 is studying how the country should manage its nuclear waste. In draft recommendations unveiled Friday, commission members said that the country should build an above-ground dry cask facility for “interim” nuclear waste storage.  The delay in utilizing Yucca Mountain is unnecessarily putting America at risk.  Such a facility would consolidate nuclear waste and relieve pressure to pack more fuel into the pools at each of the nation’s 104 nuclear plants.  (Wash Post, 5/14/2011)