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Perils of Plutonium

Scientists fret over storage of spent nuclear fuel in pools

4 min read

Is the highly radioactive spent fuel being stored in ponds at reactor sites secure against terrorist attack from a small plane carrying explosives or from a gang armed with short-range missiles? A recent report by a panel of the National Academy of Sciences, in Washington, D.C., raises questions about the situation in the United States and, by implication, in other countries as well [see photo, "Inviting Target?"].

The report, which was released in April and gave rise to some worried commentary in the general press, said that "attacks [against spent-fuel ponds] by knowledgeable terrorists with access to appropriate technical means are possible." Such an attack could partly or completely drain a pool, so that the fuel would ignite, resulting in the "release of large quantities of radioactive materials to the environment."

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This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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