Japan’s spent-fuel rod concerns shared in N.J.

News that a radiation danger at the damaged Japanese nuclear power station comes – not merely from the reactor itself – but from the spent fuel rod assemblies stored on-site resonates here in the Garden State.

New Jersey moved earlier this week to join a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency because new guidelines from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission allow nuclear plants to keep spent fuel on-site for up to 60 years after a reactor is shut down, up from 30 years.

DEP reported that the move to join the lawsuit had been in the works before last weekend, when Japan was hit by the earthquake and resultant nuclear reactor damage. At the stricken Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, more than 11,000 spent fuel rods are stored, according to Tokyo Electric.

There are four nuclear plants in New Jersey, Oyster Creek in Lacey Township, and three in Lower Alloways Township.  State officials and Oyster Creek owners Exelon reached an agreement in December to shut down that plant in 2019, a decade earlier than had been scheduled.

The federal government has no permanent disposal site for spent fuel rods.  So after Oyster Creek is closed, fuel rods would still be kept there until the federal government comes up with a plan and disposal site.

A N.Y. Times report this week stated that while spent fuel rods generate significantly less heat than newer ones, there are strong indications that the fuel rods at the stricken Japanese plant have begun to melt and release extremely high levels of radiation.

According to the Times account, years of indecision in Japan about how to deal with the spent rods have come back to haunt authorities as they struggle to contain the damage at the nuclear generating station as well as the spent rods on-site.