Exploring How Safe It Would Be to Swim in a Pool of Spent Nuclear Fuel

As part of their ongoing “What If?” series, Randall Munroe of xkcd and Henry Reich of MinutePhysics respond to a viewer’s question about the safety of swimming in a spent nuclear fuel storage pool.

What if I took a swim in a typical spent nuclear fuel pool? Would I need to dive to actually experience a fatal amount of radiation? How long could I safely stay at the surface?

They said that while not a great idea, it’s not as harmful as one would think so long as definite safety precautions were taken.

Swimming to the bottom, touching your elbows to a fresh fuel canister, and immediately swimming back  up would probably be enough to kill you. Yet outside the “safe dose” boundary, you could swim around as long as you wanted.

In fact, it may be safer than more common activities, at least in theory.

In fact, as long as you were underwater, you would be shielded from most of that normal background dose as well. So you might receive a lower dose of radiation treading water in a spent fuel pool than walking around on the street. At least, in theory. 

Swimming in Spent Nuclear Fuel Pool
Lori Dorn
Lori Dorn

Lori is a Laughing Squid Contributing Editor based in New York City who has been writing blog posts for over a decade. She also enjoys making jewelry, playing guitar, taking photos and mixing craft cocktails.