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Scientists raise concerns over potential nuclear disaster in U.S.

The Princeton University scientists, together with researchers from the Union of Concerned Scientists, argue that in many places in the U.S. the general public are at risk from fires in spent-nuclear-fuel cooling pools at reactor sites. The pools are essentially water-filled basins used to store and cool used radioactive fuel rods. The researchers have discovered that these pools are densely packed with nuclear waste. The risk to this comes from fire, and fire could be the result of a natural disaster, such as a large earthquake, or the consequence of a terrorist attack

Such is the density that it remains possible for a fire to release sufficient radioactive material to contaminate an area twice the size of New Jersey. This could, if extrapolated around key locales in the U.S., lead to 8 million people needing to relocate. The researchers have also calculated that the cost of such an incidents would be around $2 trillion.

The lead researcher has set out to increase publicity about the risks to decommissioned parts of nuclear power stations, such as spent-fuel pools. Dr. Frank von Hippel, who led the study, states: “Unfortunately, if there is no public outcry about this dangerous situation.” Here the researcher notes that spent-fuel rods were the trigger (hydrogen explosions triggering the release of radioactive material) for the radioactive spread from the March 2011 nuclear disaster in Fukushima.

The new risks are outlined in an article for the magazine Science. The article is titled “Nuclear safety regulation in the post-Fukushima era. .”

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Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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