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Several news articles late this week have reported that Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant may be in “cold shutdown” by mid-December. Although the reports are mostly accurate, there is a difference between the traditional “cold shutdown” of a nuclear plant and what is happening at Fukushima.

First, what is cold shutdown? The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission defines it as:

The term used to define a reactor coolant system at atmospheric pressure and at a temperature below 200 degrees Fahrenheit following a reactor cooldown.

In non-nuclear speak, it basically means the conditions within the nuclear reactor are such that it would be impossible for a chain reaction to occur. This term usually comes into play whenever a reactor is shut down periodically for refueling or for the final time prior to the long-term before it is decommissioned. When a reactor is in cold shutdown, the reactor pressure vessel (RPV) can be safely opened with great care and additional water is added to the cavity above the vessel for shielding to permit safe handling of the fuel for refueling (replacing depleted fuel elements) or defueling (removing the entire core).
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Answer:

Congress passed a law in 1982 directing the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to build and operate a repository for the disposal of used nuclear fuel and other high-level radioactive waste. Under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, Congress set a 1998 deadline for DOE to begin to dispose of the used nuclear fuel.  However, due to significant delay in the Energy Department’s program, the 1998 deadline is long past due and no fuel has been moved from nuclear energy facilities

To fund the federal program, the 1982 legislation established the Nuclear Waste Fund. Beginning in 1983, consumers of electricity produced at nuclear energy facilities have paid a tax of one-tenth of a cent for every kilowatt-hour of electricity produced into that fund. Commitments to the Nuclear Waste Fund, including interest, total more than $35 billion.
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Answer:

If a  worker at a nuclear plant suffers a radiation-related injury, the worker’s expenses associated with the injury claim are normally covered by workers compensation. This applies both to employees at the nuclear plant and to contractors working at the nuclear plant.  For tort claims against a third party alleged responsible for his or her injury, the worker is protected by third-party liability insurance provided by American Nuclear Insurers (ANI).  ANI, a joint underwriting association of major insurance and reinsurance companies, provides third-party liability coverage for the nuclear energy industry. ANI’s liability coverage satisfies the requirements of the Price-Anderson Act, the legal framework for public liability claims that could arise in the event of a nuclear energy incident.

Under the Price-Anderson Act, companies that own nuclear power plants are required to maintain the maximum level of financial protection commercially available, and also are required to participate in a secondary financial protection program managed by ANI. The initial limit of liability for nuclear energy facilitiesis $375 million. Should an accident at any reactor result in personal injury or off-site damages in excess of $375 million, all power reactor operators can be charged a retrospective premium of up to $117.5 million per reactor per incident, creating a combined level of protection of nearly $12.6 billion.

Learn more about nuclear energy and related topics in NEI’s “Ask an Expert” section.

Answer:

U.S. companies that operate nuclear energy facilities are required by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to maintain property damage insurance and a separate decommissioning trust fund to ensure funding is available to decommission the facility.

Nuclear Electric Insurance Limited (NEIL), the U.S. industry’s mutual insurance company, provides insurance coverage for accidental property damage and extended down time resulting from an incident. For property damage and on-site decontamination, up to $2.75 billion is available to each nuclear energy facility. The policies provide coverage for direct physical damage to, or destruction of, the insured property as a result of a casualty loss, including an accident. The policies prioritize payment of expenses to stabilize the reactor to a safe condition and then decontaminate the plant site.
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Answer:

The evidence indicates that all of the spent fuel pools at Fukushima Daiichi are intact and there are no cracks that contributed to a loss of cooling water for used nuclear fuel assemblies. This is substantiated by observations around the storage pool areas, and the ability to re-establish cooling water levels.

Loss of water in the spent fuel storage pools at Fukushima Daiichi was primarily caused by sloshing of the water during the earthquake and evaporation when the sources of cooling water to the storage pools was temporarily interrupted.  Alternative means of providing cooling water to the storage pools was established to ensure that the fuel was covered with water and safely maintained.

As part of its long-term stabilization plan, Tokyo Electric Power Co. is reinforcing the spent fuel storage pool structure in reactor 4 as a precautionary measure.

Learn more about nuclear energy and related topics in NEI’s “Ask an Expert” section.

Activity ID: 1002943 Activity Name: NEI Remarketing Safety Activity Group Name: Remarketing Safety First