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U.S. Regulators Find No Need to Hasten Spent Nuclear-Fuel Transfers

U.S. regulators have opted against ordering the expedited transfer of spent atomic fuel from above-ground pools to dry casks, the Associated Press reports.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission decided to abide by an internal advisement to cease exploring the idea of requiring atomic energy plants to speed up the removal of used fuel from storage pools to metal and concrete containers, according to a Friday commission memo.

"The commission has approved the staff's recommendation that this ... activity be closed and that no further generic assessments be pursued related to possible regulatory actions to require the expedited transfer of spent fuel to dry cask storage," states the memo by Rochelle Bavol, acting commission secretary.

A number of U.S. lawmakers and activists have criticized the nuclear energy industry's longstanding practice of keeping large quantities of highly radioactive atomic material in lightly protected storage pools. Their concern is that water surrounding the used fuel could escape its container and lead to the dispersal of harmful radiation into the environment in the event of an earthquake, flood or terrorist attack.

Last year, commission staff concluded that moving spent fuel to dry cask storage would not result in safety improvements great enough to warrant the extra financial cost that would come with implementing the measure.

Bill Dean, Nuclear Regulatory Commission northeast regional administrator, in an interview said the regulator had determined that both dry casks and pools were "adequate storage processes for spent fuel, and there is not a significant safety benefit to requiring full transfer to dry cask storage."

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was one of five senators to write to the commission's head in recent weeks to warn against easing safety and security regulations for mothballed civilian reactors.

"We are one natural disaster, mechanical failure or terrorist attack away from a disaster," Sanders said in a Tuesday statement. "If the NRC will not change the rules, I will continue to work with my colleagues to change the rules through legislation."

Clarification: This article was modified after publication to clarify the potential for radiation leaks.

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