Supplement analysis on spent fuel project; activist ‘deeply disappointed’ with NRC

ornlentranceI posted earlier information on the arrival of “research quantities” of high-burn-up spent fuel from North Anna (Va.) Power Station to ORNL. ORNL Director Thom Mason subsequently clarified that as being about 100 pounds.

Some activist groups, including the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, had expressed concerns about the project, and Ralph Hutchison of OREPA said Monday he was “deeply disappointed” that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission did not provide requested information on what route was used to deliver the high-rad material to Oak Ridge.

He said the NRC had 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.

ORNL Director Thom Mason said DOE did a supplement analysis of the project’s impacts. It’s available at this site. There are other sites involved in the project.

“Following processing and initial test at ORNL, some SNF (spent nuclear fuel) would remain at ORNL for future testing, while some would be transported to the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory near Richland, Wash.,” the summary stated. “A limited amount of defueled cladding would be transported to Argonne National Laboratory near Lemont, Ill., for additional research.”

The fuel from the pressurized water reactor at North Anna 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 burnup 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.

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.

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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.