Accelerated SRS spent fuel disposition plan to save billions, DOE says

July 7, 2022, 9:34AMRadwaste Solutions

Savannah River Site’s H Canyon and L Basin. (Photo: DOE-EM)

The Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management (EM) has approved a new plan that will accelerate the disposition of spent nuclear fuel at its Savannah River Site in South Carolina by more than 20 years, which will result in a savings of more than $4 billion.

Under the newly approved approach, called accelerated basin de-inventory (ABD), SRS will dissolve spent fuel at the site’s H Canyon chemical separations facility and send it through the liquid waste program to be vitrified and stored on-site until a federal repository is identified.

Reaching capacity: According to the DOE, the ABD approach will allow for the disposition of spent nuclear fuel from the site’s L Area Disassembly Basis, or L Basin, an underwater facility that receives and stores spent nuclear fuel from foreign and domestic research reactors.

Since 1995, H Canyon has been used to dissolve SNF from the L Basin. After dissolution, H Canyon uses chemical processes to purify and blend the resulting high-enriched uranium with natural uranium to produce low-enriched uranium for use in commercial power reactors.

“L Basin is nearing its storage capacity, and there are other cheaper sources of fuel for commercial power reactors, so our LEU is no longer needed,” says Eloy Saldivar, the ABD program manager for SRS management and operations contractor Savannah River Nuclear Solutions. “ABD is just a cheaper, faster, and simpler approach to dispositioning SNF.”

Aging H Canyon: While H Canyon is the only operating production-scale nuclear radiochemical separations facility in the United States, Saldivar notes that the facility is nearly 70 years old and expensive to maintain and operate.

ABD allows certain H Canyon systems to be made inactive, saving processing and associated upkeep and maintenance costs. According to the DOE, the new approach also allows SRS to disposition the more than 3,000 SNF bundles in L Basin by the mid-2030s, compared to 2060 under the previous approach.

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