Source: Knoxville News Sentinel | Frank Munger | February 15, 2016
The U.S. Department of Energy has confirmed that “research quantities” of spent nuclear fuel from a Virginia reactor have arrived at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, where a team will conduct a number of studies with the highly radioactive material.
“ORNL is in receipt of research quantities of high-burn-up commercial fuel from the North Anna Power Station,” DOE spokeswoman Claire Sinclair said in response to questions.
The total amount is about 100 pounds, ORNL Director Thom Mason said via email.
The studies are reportedly taking place in highly shielded “hot cells” in ORNL’s Irradiated Fuels Examination Laboratory.
“The research has begun and will involve detailed nondestructive and destructive examination and other analyses,” Sinclair said.
The fuel from the pressurized water reactor is categorized as high burn-up, which means that more of the uranium fuel is burned up during operations than with traditional fuels. That allows utilities to get more power out of the fuel before replacing it, thus reducing the amount of fuel used and extending the time between refuelings.
“The trend over the years has been to go toward higher burn-up fuel to reduce waste and improve economics,” Mason said.
The fuel is not experimental, the ORNL director said.
“However, since it is a more recent shift in the industry, less is known about the behavior of high burn-up fuel after it comes out of the reactor,” he said. “Hence the motivation for the R&D (research and development).”
The studies reportedly will provide additional information on long-term storage of the spent nuclear fuels, as well as their eventual disposition.
Activist groups expressed concern last year when the proposed project — and follow-up projects to be conducted later, either at ORNL or other sites — was made public.
Ralph Hutchison of the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance said earlier Monday he was “deeply disappointed” that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission did not release information on the route that was to be used to transport the highly radioactive spent fuel from North Anna to Oak Ridge. He said the NRC promised that information but never provided it.
Hutchison said he also had asked ORNL officials if they planned to do an environmental assessment for the project.
Mason said DOE has not made a decision on where additional shipments of the high-burn-up spent fuel may be sent for studies.
“ORNL is probably an option, along with other DOE labs, but that decision is a few years off,” he said.
Mason said previous reports that the lab could be receiving up to 20 tons of spent fuel were way off base. He said that was far beyond the capacity of ORNL’s nuclear facilities.