THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

NRC concedes Japan fuel pool not dry

Associated Press / June 16, 2011

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WASHINGTON — Early fears that all the water was gone from a spent fuel pool at the stricken nuclear complex in Japan were unfounded, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission said yesterday.

Newly obtained video shows that the spent fuel pool at Unit 4 at the Fukushima Daiichi complex probably did not go dry as NRC chairman Gregory Jaczko had insisted in March, the NRC said.

Japanese officials had denied Jaczko’s assertion, which was based on information from NRC staff and other specialists who went to Japan after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

Bill Borchardt, the NRC’s executive director for operations, said US officials welcomed the video evidence as “good news’’ and one indication that the meltdown at the Unit 4 of the Fukushima plant “may not have been as serious as was believed.’’

Borchardt made the comment as the five-member commission heard an update on a 90-day safety review being conducted in the wake of the Japan crisis. Jaczko did not comment on the spent fuel pool during yesterday’s meeting, and he was not available for comment afterward.

A spokesman for the NRC said the assumption that the spent fuel pool may have gone dry played a role in Jaczko’s controversial decision to recommend that US citizens stay at least 50 miles away from the crippled plant. If the pool was dry, that would have meant there was nothing to stop the fuel rods from getting hotter and ultimately melting down. The outer shells of the rods also could have ignited with enough force to propel the radioactive fuel inside over a wide area.

NRC spokesman Scott Burnell said Jaczko and other US officials made the recommendation based on the best information available at the time.

He said the NRC continues to believe the 50-mile recommendation was appropriate.

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