DOE gets go-ahead to build spent fuel/high-level waste railcars

Graphical rendering of Fortis railcar design with spent nuclear fuel cask. Image: DOE

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) recently gave the Department of Energy approval to begin building and testing Fortis, a high-tech railcar designed specifically to transport the nation’s spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste. Fortis is one of two specialized railcars under development by the DOE that could be operational within the next five years.

Fortis is an eight-axle, flat-deck railcar that will be able to transport large containers of spent fuel and HLW. It is equipped with high-tech sensors and monitoring systems that report 11 different performance features back to the operators in real time. The railcar design was completed earlier this year, with technical support from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

According to the DOE, AAR signed off on the design in January, allowing the department to begin fabricating and testing the prototype in compliance with the rail industry’s highest design standard for railcars transporting spent fuel and HLW.

Core Power thinks nuclear will make waves in commercial shipping

Illustration of Core Power’s modular MSR concept. Image: Core Power

Core Power is a tiny startup that is bullish on the prospects for nuclear-powered ocean transportation. The company announced on November 2 that it is part of a team that has applied for a cost-shared award from the Department of Energy’s Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP) to build a prototype molten salt reactor (MSR). Core Power believes that MSRs could be used for propulsion or electricity generation to decarbonize the world’s commercial shipping fleet.

Based in London, England, Core Power is the only non-U.S. member of the team, which includes TerraPower, Southern Company, and Orano USA. As a marine engineering firm, Core Power says that it offers its ARDP partners “access to pent-up demand from a market with real customers.” An announcement of ARDP “risk reduction for future demonstrations” award winners is expected in December.

A microreactor at every rest stop?

The MiFi-DC as portrayed in a video released by Argonne.

Electrifying the nation’s trucking industry could reduce consumption of fossil-based diesel fuel, but it would also pose new challenges. A cross-country 18-wheel truck needs five to 10 times more electricity than an electric car to recharge its battery. Where will that electricity come from?

A team of engineers at Argonne National Laboratory has designed a microreactor called the MiFi-DC (for MicroFission Direct Current) that they say could be mass-produced and installed at highway rest stops to power a future fleet of electric 18-wheelers.

Nuclear News reached out to the MiFi-DC team to learn more. The team, led by Derek Kultgen, a principal engineer at Argonne who also leads the lab’s Mechanisms Engineering Test Loop, responded to questions by email. While they emphasized that much more needs to be done before the MiFi-DC could become a fixture at rest stops across the country, the information the team shared sheds some light on the process of designing a tiny reactor for a specific purpose.

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Argonne microreactor designed to charge long-haul trucks of the future

A team of engineers in Argonne National Laboratory’s Nuclear Science and Engineering Division have designed a microreactor called MiFi-DC that could be factory-produced and installed at highway rest stops across the country to power a proposed fleet of electric trucks. The reactors are described in an article, Could Argonne’s mini nuclear reactor solve the e-truck recharging dilemma? and a video released by Argonne on October 6.

Pairing a liquid metal thermal reactor with a thermal energy storage system, each reactor could fuel an average of 17 trucks a day.

A look back at 1984 U.K. spent fuel flask test

The government of the United Kingdom conducted a series of tests in the 1980s to assess the robustness of spent nuclear fuel packages. One such test involved ramming a 140-ton diesel locomotive into a transportation canister, called a nuclear flask, at 100 miles per hour. The test, according to a recent article published by the online magazine The Drive, was a “smashing” success. Just 0.29 psi of pressure escaped the 50-ton test flask, which had been pressurized to 100 psi.