How can we prevent another nuclear disaster from happening here in the United States? One way is to be more systematic in how we handle spent nuclear fuel. Stored nuclear waste was a huge factor in Japan's Fukushima reactor disaster.

A new report from MIT argues that the U.S. should have a comprehensive plan to store nuclear fuel temporily in cooling pools, and then later in concrete-and-steel casks, for 100 years before moving it to more permanent storage. The "vast amounts of nuclear waste" piling up at power plants around the U.S. are cause for concern at the moment, as Technology Review puts it.


The most hair-raising part of the Technology Review article about the MIT report is where one of the authors, MIT's Ernest Moniz, is quoted as saying "the question of what to do with spent fuel before sending it to permanent storage 'has frankly been an afterthought.'"

Rather than rush to send spent fuel to permanent storage, such as underground burial — and fumble the question of how to store it before it goes into a permanent location — the MIT report suggests housing it for decades in temporary storage. After that time, it's possible we'll have refined our methods for reprocessing the waste, and turning it into an energy source, at a time when uranium may be scarcer.

Nuclear waste transportation image via AP/Department of Energy. [Technology Review]