Spent fuel arrives at ORNL; research under way

irradiatedfuelsSpent fuel rods from a commercial reactor in Virginia will be studied in hot cells at ORNL’s Irradiated Fuels Examination Laboratory. (KNS/Munger photo)

The Department of Energy has confirmed that “research quantities” of high-burn-up spent nuclear fuel from the North Anna (Va.) Power Station have arrived at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Claire Sinclair, a spokeswoman at DOE’s Office of Science in Oak Ridge, provided a brief response to questions about the project.

“ORNL is in receipt of research quantities of high burn up commercial fuel from the North Anna Power Station,” Sinclair said via email. She did not specify when the radioactive materials arrived at the DOE lab or say how much was in the shipment.

ORNL Director Thom Mason last year said the initial shipment would involve 25 spent fuel rods to be characterized and then analyzed for how they age over time — information that will be needed to prepare for eventual disposition of like materials.

As regards the Oak Ridge project, Sinclair said, “The research has begun and will involve detailed non-destructive and destructive examination and other analyses.”

Last fall, a number of activist groups expressed concern about the proposed effort, suggesting that Oak Ridge could end up keeping the highly radioactive materials indefinitely.

When the project gained public attention in November 2015, Ralph Hutchison of the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance said he thought the initial shipment would be “just the camel’s nose.”

Hutchison said, “What most concerns us is the second shipment. This is some of the nastiest waste created by the nuclear industry. And since there is no approved disposal facility or plan, it’s safe to say if it comes to Oak Ridge, it will never leave.”

Mason did not respond to questions last week, but he reiterated that earlier reports that ORNL could end up receiving 20 tons of spent fuel were way out of line. He said that is far beyond the lab’s capabilities.

Last year, the lab director noted that it was possible ORNL would later receive some additional spent fuel rods for comparison purposes, but indicated they would be relatively small quantities.

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About Frank Munger

Senior Writer Frank Munger covers the Dept. of Energy's Oak Ridge facilities and many related topics — nuclear weapons, nuclear waste and other things nuclear, environmental cleanup and science of all sorts. Atomic City Underground is, first and foremost, a news blog, but there's room for analysis, opinion and random thoughts that have no place else to go.