Management of high-burnup spent fuel subject of NWTRB report

August 6, 2021, 9:30AMRadwaste Solutions
A shipping cask containing high-burnup fuel rods from Dominion Virginia Power’s North Anna nuclear plant is prepared for shipment to Oak Ridge National Laboratory for study. (Photo: EPRI/Dominion Energy)

The Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board (NWTRB) has released a comprehensive and highly technical report on the Department of Energy's research efforts into high-burnup spent nuclear fuel. The NWTRB is an independent federal agency tasked with evaluating the technical and scientific validity of DOE activities related to managing and disposing of high-level radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel.

The NWTRB report to the U.S. Congress and the secretary of energy, Evaluation of the Department of Energy’s Research Program to Examine the Performance of Commercial High Burnup Spent Nuclear Fuel During Extended Storage and Transportation, was posted to the board’s website on August 2. It is a product of a multi-year effort during which the NWTRB reviewed the DOE’s research activities into the performance of high-burnup spent nuclear fuel (SNF) in extended storage and transportation conditions.

Filling in the gaps: Extensive research has provided confidence that low-burnup SNF can be stored for extended periods and transported in accordance with federal regulatory requirements. The NWTRB noted that similar research to improve the understanding of the performance of high-burnup SNF has begun but is not yet complete. The report provides the board’s assessment of the DOE’s high-burnup SNF research program and makes recommendations that if implemented, the NWTRB said, will improve the DOE’s program and its ability to provide data that will enhance the understanding of high-burnup SNF.

According to the NWTRB: The report provides the characteristics of high-burnup SNF and describes how these characteristics compare to low-burnup SNF. The NWTRB used domestic and foreign literature on SNF as a basis for reviewing the DOE’s research into high-burnup SNF. The evaluation of DOE activities focused on:

  • SNF drying
  • hydrogen effects in high-burnup SNF cladding
  • high-burnup SNF performance under normal conditions of dry storage
  • high-burnup SNF performance under normal conditions of transport
  • fuel performance modeling

The 366-page report presents findings and recommendations in each of these areas, as well as on general aspects of the DOE’s high-burnup SNF research program.

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