Radioactive Fuel Fires: Not Just a Japanese Problem
The spent fuel pools at Fukushima are currently the top short-term threat to humanity.
But fuel pools in the United States store an average of ten times more radioactive fuel than stored at Fukushima, havevirtually no safety features, and are vulnerable to accidents and terrorist attacks.
If the water drains out for any reason, it will cause a fire in the fuel rods, as the zirconium metal jacket on the outside of the fuel rods could very well catch fire within hours or days after being exposed to air. See this, this, this and this. (Even a large solar flare could knock out the water-circulation systems for the pools.)
The pools are also filling up fast, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission:
The New York Times notes that squeezing more rods into pools may increase the risk of fire:
The reactor operators have squeezed spent fuel more tightly into the pools, raising the heat load and, according to some analyses, raising the risk of fire if the pools were ever drained.
Robert Alvarez – a nuclear expert and a former special assistant to the United States Secretary of Energy – notesthat there have also been many incidents within the U.S. involving fuel pools