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Response to The Stranger (Reply #26)

Mon Nov 18, 2013, 10:34 AM

44. Your answers.

Is the danger of the rods being removed that they will come into contact with other rods? Amazingly, this still hasn't been explained in the torrents of discussion on this topic.

No. This has been continually misreported (largely sourced to people who are knowingly deceiving the public). Fuel rods/assemblies "touching" isn't worrisome (absent "touching" hard enough to damage the assembly significantly). Some people have treated it as though these were electrical sources that would arc if they got too close. These things have been modeled for decades. They've even modeled scenarios where one assembly is dropped onto another (partially crushing both of them to make them more compact than designed) and then miraculously end up touching along their whole length (not possible since one of the two assemblies would be inside a rack)... and they never get close to a criticality.

Similarly, you will read nonsense that implies (or outright asserts) that if the assemblies come in contact with air, they will burst into flames and release massive amounts of radiation. This too is nonsense. After three years, it doubtful that any of the assemblies can get that hot even without water cooling.

In both scenarios (criticality or fire), it would take many errors before it would even be a miniscule possibility. Even a building collapse at this point (while serious) would be very unlikely to result in either - though the chances are greater than zero.

Finally, why is this a potential problem when the fuel rods are described as being "spent fuel"? That description, to me, indicates that there is no more potential energy within the rods.

That's a good question. The difference in this case is that spent fuel is less fissile (less capable of sustaining fission), but more radioactive. This is because, as the fuel is "spent", the U235 is depleted and replaced with fission products (many with much shorter half-lives and thus far more radioactivity - but that can't sustain a chain reaction).

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