Jeffrey LewisZirconium Cladding Fire Resources

A bibliography regarding zirconium cladding fires or, a discourse on the folly of man in the face of the wrath of nature.  After the jump.

Alvarez, R., J.Beyea, K.Janberg, J.Kang, E.Lyman, A.Macfarlane, G.Thompson, and F.N. von Hippel. 2003a. Reducing the Hazards from Stored Spent Power-Reactor Fuel in the United States. Science and Global Security, Vol. 11, pp. 1–51.

Fact Sheet on NRC Review of Paper on Reducing Hazards from Stored Spent Nuclear Fuel

Alvarez, R., J.Beyea, K.Janberg, J.Kang, E.Lyman, A.Macfarlane, G.Thompson, and F.N. von Hippel. 2003b. Response by the authors to the NRC review of “Reducing the Hazards from Stored Spent Power-Reactor Fuel in the United States.” Science and Global Security, Vol.11, pp. 213–223.

Beyea, J., E.Lyman, and F.von Hippel. 2004. Damages from a Major Release of 137Cs into the Atmosphere of the U.S. (addendum to “Reducing the Hazards from Stored Spent Power-Reactor Fuel in the United States” by R.Alvarez, J.Beyea, K.Janberg. E. Lyman, A.Macfarlane, G.Thompson, and F.von Hippel, 2003. Science and Global Security, Vol. 11, pp. 1–51). Science and Global Security, Vol. 12, pp. 125–136.

Chapter 4, Safety and Security of Commercial Spent Nuclear Fuel Storage: Public Report, National Academies of Science, 2006.




  1. Red_Blue (History)

    There apparently has been significant development in the studies about spent fuel pool fires during the last 10 years and it’s easy to find very sharply divergent views from the older studies. But where is the “state-of-art” in such studies today?

    NEI claims in their “Fact Sheet, Used Nuclear Fuel Storage at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, (Last updated 3/15/11)” that
    “There has been some speculation that, if the used fuel pool were completely drained, the zirconium cladding might ignite and a “zirconium fire” might occur. Studies performed by the Department of Energy indicate that is virtually impossible to ignite zirconium tubing.”

    What is this DoE study what when was it released? I know that Alvarez hasn’t changed his mind during the years, but does more recent modelling really show that fuel in a completely (damaged by hydrogen explosion and then boiled) dry pool could not actually catch fire?

    • FSB (History)
    • anonymous (History)

      Current rumours on CNN and NHK seem to indicate that the final crew of 50 has been pulled as well.

      Seems to me that all the storage pools including those buried in debris on Units 1 and 3 are face the same fate as the pool on Unit 4 — boil off followed by fire. If the pool #4 went from say 30 C to 85 C in three days (measured at 85 C on monday) is is reasonable to assume that by day 4 (tuesday) it is boiling vigourously and the fires we are observing happen as the upper part of each fuel rod’s zirconium burns. At that point, the remaining fuel pellets are uncased and may melt or otherwise simply fall to the bottom of the pond. I don’t know what the boron moderator does — hopefully it falls at the same rate to prevent a criticality accident.

      In this case, storage pool 4 may be heating the remaining water at increasing rate and may soon be dry, leaving all the fuel on the bottom of the pool. What happens then — does the fuel continue to heat until it vaporizes? Not good.

      The weather forecast is for offshore winds until Saturday.

      To prevent this eventuality, either cooling must be restored, or perhaps the pool should be disassembled with a shaped charge type explosive so as to get the radiation out (burned) of the pools when the winds are off shore, and thus save the populated areas from Cesium-137 exposure?

      Maybe instead a shaped charge explosive to open a path for fire hose water, or helicopter dumped water, to the storage pools. Not that many liters per second are needed to cool each pool, and certainly fire trucks, other portable pumps, and diesel fuel can be airlifted in using heavy Chinook type industrial helicopters?

      I hope that someone with authority is considering a plan B to save habitability for the millions of people downwind of a potential Saturday release. I hope that they are modeling the temperature of each storage pond from the available data and have designed a plan to save the day. I am extremely concerned. Its time for someone in the Japanese government or Tepco to exercise some leadership.

    • anonymous (History)

      Correction: boron neutron poison. I understand that some stored fuel assemblies have a boron based neutron poison to prevent further fission. I don’t know what kind of neutron poison is in the Fukushima stored fuel assemblies, but it is my hope that they melt/fall to the bottom of the pool at the same rate as the fuel rods to prevent fission from greatly increasing. Perhaps the whole thing is in a boric acid bath.

  2. yousaf (History)

    Those are great! Thanks!

    I liked this paper for the detailed physics/chemistry of the hydrogen release etc.:

  3. William Coviello (History)

    We developed a fire extinguishing agent FEM-12 SC that can extinguish a zirconium fire. We have uploaded a video on YouTube, search the following “fem12sc” and you will find two zirconium fires being extinguished. The demonstration was located at Western Zirconium plant in Utah. We tried to contact someone in Japan but to no avail. The video should be available on YouTube sometime on March 17, 2011.