Used Fuel

TVA's Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant

Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant Safely Shuts Down During Extreme Tornadoes

When a series of strong tornadoes swept through the Tennessee Valley in late April, the Browns Ferry nuclear energy facility was ready for nature’s challenge. Dozens of tornadoes, including four EF5 storms—the strongest on the scale used by the National Weather Service—battered the Southeast and the Tennessee Valley Authority’s transmission system, severing power lines to Browns Ferry.

The tornadoes destroyed 353 of TVA’s transmission poles and towers and took out 108 power lines, including the seven transmission lines that serve as the Athens, Ala., site’s primary source of power.

When all but one power line to the plant went out of service, operators guided the safe shutdown of the facility’s three reactors.  Seven emergency diesel generators provided power to safety systems that kept the reactor fuel cores cooled.
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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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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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Maria Korsnick

Constellation Energy Nuclear Group's Chief Nuclear Officer Maria Korsnick

Guest Commentary by Maria Korsnick
Chief Nuclear Officer, Constellation Energy Nuclear Group (CENG)
Member of the Fukushima Response Steering Committee

It is hard to believe that six months have passed since a massive earthquake and a tsunami with a 45-foot wall of water struck Japan on March 11, causing death, injuries, and millions and millions of dollars in destruction.

This tragedy is still on our minds and our thoughts are with the Japanese people.

The natural disaster also severely damaged the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, prompting important and valid questions about the nuclear energy industry’s safety, security and ability to respond to a myriad of “what if” scenarios.

One fact is clear: Nuclear plant operators go to great lengths to produce electricity safely, reliably and economically. Multiple layers of physical security, back-up systems to the back-up systems and high levels of operational performance protect the employees, public and the environment.
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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