Near the Indian Point nuclear power plant, about 35 miles north of New York City, stand two rows of 20-foot-high, 180-ton concrete cylinders. Each drum, known as a dry cask, houses especially unwanted cargo: spent nuclear fuel.
The dry cask was introduced in the 1980s as a temporary solution to the nuclear industry’s growing waste problem. Today it remains the nation’s best and only longish-term storage option. (The casks are designed to last 100 years.) There are about 1,300 dry casks at 55 sites nationwide; however, most of the radioactive waste generated in the United States sits in cooling pools similar to Japan’s. If the pool leaks or the cooling system breaks, as happened in Japan, the nuclear fuel rods could become exposed and release radioactive gas.