The Spent Fuel

In the dizzying vortex of changing accounts, limited information, government defensiveness, and unavoidable confusion, one thing seems to me to stand out about the Fukishima plant. Clive Crook puts his finger on it:

My father, who retired many years ago, was a mechanical engineer in the British nuclear power industry. He worked on the designs of several new reactors, specialising in the handling of fuel. I vividly recall his telling me decades ago that the thing that concerned him most about nuclear power was not the reactors but the storage of spent fuel. This needed to be very carefully managed. If planners insisted on giving nuclear installations the smallest footprint, everything would be on the same site. What would happen to the spent fuel if an accident meant a site had to be evacuated? Insufficient attention was being paid to this, he said. The conversation passed through my mind as soon as the first reports of problems at Fukushima appeared. Where do they put the spent fuel?

Today the New York Times tells us where: on "the top level of the reactor buildings".

The NYT confirms the real risk:

The pools are a worry at the stricken reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant because at least two of the reactors have lost their roofs in explosions, exposing the spent fuel pools to the atmosphere. By contrast, reactors have strong containment vessels that stand a better chance of bottling up radiation from a meltdown of the fuel in the reactor core.

If any of the spent fuel rods in the pools do indeed catch fire, nuclear experts say, the high heat would loft the radiation in clouds that would spread the radioactivity.