DOE seeks proposals to build and test high-tech railcar for spent nuclear fuel

January 25, 2022, 1:53PMRadwaste Solutions
Graphical rendering of Fortis railcar design with spent nuclear fuel cask. (Image: DOE)

The Department of Energy has issued a request for proposals for the fabrication and testing of a prototype eight-axle railcar to carry the nation’s spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste. The heavy-duty, flat-deck railcar design known as “Fortis” received approval from the Association of American Railroads (AAR) in January 2021 to proceed to building and testing.

The proposal includes the fabrication of a prototype Fortis railcar, the acquisition of instrumented wheelsets necessary to measure railcar performance, and the conduct of the railcar testing required by AAR Standard S-2043, Performance Specification for Trains Used to Carry High-Level Radioactive Material. The design for the Fortis railcar will be provided to the contractor by the DOE, and the Fortis project will receive technical support for fabrication and testing from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

More information on the DOE’s request for proposals for the Fortis railcar can be found at FedConnect.

DOE railroad: Development of the Fortis railcar is part of the DOE’s overall effort to develop a robust transportation capability for spent fuel and HLW. Commercial spent fuel is packaged in casks that weigh between 80 tons and 210 tons. Weight limits for legal-weight trucks transported in the United States are around 40 tons, making rail the preferred mode to move these heavy casks.

The DOE has already designed and fabricated the 12-axle Atlas railcar that is currently undergoing testing. Together, the Fortis and Atlas railcars will provide the department with a capability to move radioactive materials safely and efficiently by 2027, the DOE said.

No ordinary caboose: Earlier this month, the DOE announced that a railcar specifically designed to transport security personnel during the shipment of spent fuel and HLW was being sent to a site near Pueblo, Colo., for multiple-car testing. Developed by the U.S. Navy and the DOE, the Rail Escort Vehicle (REV) is the last piece needed to complete the department’s railcar system, the DOE said.

While the new REV provides a comfortable living and working environment for the security personnel onboard, it is no ordinary caboose, according to the DOE. The REV is equipped with security features, including cameras and communications equipment, to provide enhanced surveillance of spent fuel shipments throughout the journey.

The project was initiated by the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program to replace the Navy’s aging fleet of escort vehicles. The DOE and the Navy leveraged shared resources and practices to develop the new REV design, which meets the AAR’s highest standards.

After the REV arrives at the test site in late February, it will be connected to the Atlas railcar and buffer railcars to form a complete train. According to the DOE, the entire train will then undergo two years of multiple-car testing, which will allow initial operations capabilities as early as 2024.

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