The Public Eye

Reports from the Bee's investigative team

March 23, 2011
The growing U.S. nuclear waste problem

ranchoseco.JPGThe continuing battle to cool spent fuel rods at Japan's Fukushima's nuclear power station puts a spotlight on the growing amount of radioactive waste accumulating at American nuclear power plants.

Because there is yet no permanent storage facility for spent fuel, this very hazardous material is kept near the reactors which generated it. According to a new Associated Press investigation, the nation now maintains nearly 72,000 tons of nuclear waste. And this amount is growing by about 2,200 tons every year.

Nuclear fuel waste -- which stays toxic for thousands of years -- is currently housed in two types of temporary storage: cooling pools and dry casks. Fuel rods must first cool in the pools for at least five years before transfer to the casks that keep the material safe for about 100 years. AP reports that many of the pools are overloaded, some with four times what they were designed to hold. Almost 55,000 tons of waste are still in pools.

U.S. commercial nuclear waste is housed at 119 power plants in 31 states. (Fifteen of these plants are no longer operating.) California has four such facilities. (Two are producing electricity, two are closed.) California's current waste totals 3,186 tons (2,180 in pools, 956 in dry casks). See AP's interactive map for statistics on other states' inventory.

PHOTO CREDIT: A SMUD technician walks over the pool where the first fuel rods are being kept before being loaded into the new Rancho Seco nuclear reactor. 1974 Sacramento Bee photo by Andrew DeLucia.

About Comments

Reader comments on are the opinions of the writer, not The Sacramento Bee. If you see an objectionable comment, click the "report abuse" button below it. We will delete comments containing inappropriate links, obscenities, hate speech, and personal attacks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. See more about comments here.

What You Should Know About Comments on is happy to provide a forum for reader interaction, discussion, feedback and reaction to our stories. However, we reserve the right to delete inappropriate comments or ban users who can't play nice. (See our full terms of service here.)

Here are some rules of the road:

• Keep your comments civil. Don't insult one another or the subjects of our articles. If you think a comment violates our guidelines click the "report abuse" button to notify the moderators. Responding to the comment will only encourage bad behavior.

• Don't use profanities, vulgarities or hate speech. This is a general interest news site. Sometimes, there are children present. Don't say anything in a way you wouldn't want your own child to hear.

• Do not attack other users; focus your comments on issues, not individuals.

• Stay on topic. Only post comments relevant to the article at hand. If you want to discuss an issue with a specific user, click on his profile name and send him a direct message.

• Do not copy and paste outside material into the comment box.

• Don't repeat the same comment over and over. We heard you the first time.

• Do not use the commenting system for advertising. That's spam and it isn't allowed.

• Don't use all capital letters. That's akin to yelling and not appreciated by the audience.

You should also know that The Sacramento Bee does not screen comments before they are posted. You are more likely to see inappropriate comments before our staff does, so we ask that you click the "report abuse" button to submit those comments for moderator review. You also may notify us via email at Note the headline on which the comment is made and tell us the profile name of the user who made the comment. Remember, comment moderation is subjective. You may find some material objectionable that we won't and vice versa.

If you submit a comment, the user name of your account will appear along with it. Users cannot remove their own comments once they have submitted them, but you may ask our staff to retract one of your comments by sending an email to Again, make sure you note the headline on which the comment is made and tell us your profile name.

hide comments

On October 14, The Sacramento Bee will temporarily remove commenting from While we design the upgrade, we encourage you to tell us what you like and don't like about commenting on and other websites. We've heard from hundreds of you already and we're listening. Please continue to add your thoughts and questions here. We also encourage you to write Letters to the Editor on this and other topics.

About The Public Eye

Welcome to The Bee's newest blog: Public Eye. In the coming months, you will see us breaking news here as well as following up on investigations we have published with tidbits, news breaks and behind-the-scenes descriptions of our news-gathering process. Know of a wrong we could right? Send our fraud squad your tips at:

The Public Eye


October 2013

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
    1 2 3 4 5
6 7 8 9 10 11 12
13 14 15 16 17 18 19
20 21 22 23 24 25 26
27 28 29 30 31    

Monthly Archives