Assuming the human population is decimated (how doesn't matter) such that nuclear power plant maintenance is impossible. What would happen to a spent nuclear fuel rod pool? It seems to me that eventually there would be cracks in the pool casing or a cooling system issue which would cause the water to drop to the point where the spent nuclear fuel would catch fire.

What will happen to this pool if left unattended?

There was a discussion on Nuclear power plan meltdown which is similar to this but my question has more to do with the actual spent fuel pools.

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    $\begingroup$ Voted to close. Asking multiple questions is pretty much forbidden by the gods. $\endgroup$ Apr 5, 2018 at 20:52
  • $\begingroup$ Hello Richard. Sorry for Gary's attitude, but we do like to keep questions focused on one problem at a time. $\endgroup$ Apr 5, 2018 at 21:01
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    $\begingroup$ (1) Completely, if only due to evaporation. (2) None, coolant runs out without maintenance. (3) Chernobyl. (4) Research (3) and multiply by number of plants in the world. @GaryWalker is basically right, but the question is lacking research more than anything else. Questions about real-world topics are off-topic here. Please see our tour and help center pages for more info. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Apr 5, 2018 at 21:28
  • $\begingroup$ Watch Life after People en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life_After_People $\endgroup$
    – Thorne
    Apr 6, 2018 at 6:01
  • $\begingroup$ This isn't a bad question at all, and is right up my knowledge base. In my opinion, it could be just asked as a single question: what is going to happen? I vote to re-open because it is on-topic (it is about what happens on a possible future Earth) and within scope (technical details on a single topic). Also, because I want to answer it. $\endgroup$
    – kingledion
    Apr 6, 2018 at 14:28

1 Answer 1


Do you mean fuel rods in nuclear reactors at the time of the decimation of the population?

In that case, nothing. At least not in any reasonably designed reactor. Most reactors have automatic failsafe mechanisms to cut off and stop the reaction if there are no people to attend to the reactor. They are designed in a way that the process of the reaction is not self sustaining and in need of constant upkeep. In the event of trouble (like no people to attedn the reactor, or the reactor failing due to some technical error), the reactor will stop this "upkeep" of the nuclear fission, which in itself is enough for the reaction to stop, but the reactor will also automatically enact further safety measures. The fuel itself won't get hot enough without the nuclear fission going on, so it will not catch on fire or melt. It will just sit there decaying, as it would have if it wouls be still in the ground.

Edit: to expand on what i wrote about a non self sustaining reactor: modern, reasonably designed reactors basically don't need to do anything to stop the nuclear reaction, they are built in a way that fission cannot take place on it's own. What does need constant work is the enabling of the reaction. So if a reactor fails, it's not the containment of the process that stops, but the enabling of the process.

  • $\begingroup$ The question seems to be asking about the en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spent_fuel_pool not the reactor itself. $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Apr 13, 2018 at 11:47
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for your reply Joecro. Sorry for the delayed response as I don’t use this site often. My question is really about the cooling pool as Ron mentioned. I read through the Wiki that Ron sent but it seems to me that eventually the spent fuel pools will eventually develop cracks and/or the water will evaporate and the the spent fuel rods would be exposed. This seems like it would make the world uninhabitable... $\endgroup$
    – Richard
    Nov 26, 2018 at 11:30

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