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Can someone please explain to me the physics of a pile of spilled nuclear fuel pellets on the floor of a spent fuel pool? Specifically, what can we expect in terms of heat and radioactivity releases, should a damaged spent fuel assembly spill its load of fuel pellets, as it is removed from Unit 4 spent fuel pool at Fukushima Diiachi?

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The answers contingent on the details of how the pellets land, so the short--short version is "No. No one can answer those questions in a definitive way.". These geometric dependencies are one of the things that makes nuclear engineering hard and keeps nuclear engineers employed. –  dmckee Dec 10 '12 at 16:51
    
Suppose the spill occurs from the bottom of a fuel assembly, as it is moved by crane, producing a pile of spent fuel pellets 30' in diameter, and 48" high at its center. The spill involves 36,400 fuel pellets, spilled onto a stainless steel pool bottom, from 1 pellet deep at the edges, to perhaps 500 pellets deep at the center. The water chemistry is as you would expect following the Fukushima disaster. Fuel is for GE Mark I BWR, removed from the reactor in November, 2010. Can you give me your best guess? –  Philip Armstrong Dec 10 '12 at 18:10

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