I’ve spent the vast majority of my career in the nuclear industry working in waste and used fuel management. First, I interned at DOE’s Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management as an undergraduate, then I spent a summer in France modeling breeder reactor cores, next I worked on waste management issues at the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, for my master’s thesis I modeled gas evolution from Hanford N-Reactor fuel in sealed canisters, and I worked for seven years in Dominion’s nuclear spent fuel group.
In that time, I’ve witnessed many DOE proposals for repository design and function: a “hot” versus a “cold” repository; wet fuel transfer versus dry fuel transfer versus no fuel transfer; standard canister design versus standard canister design criteria versus “let the utilities decide what to ship it in"; and on and on. All of these proposals are technically feasible and also have pros and cons.
So, I read with great interest today DOE’s announcement that it has instructed its contractor to
devise a plan to operate the Yucca Mountain repository as a primarily “clean” or non-contaminated facility.What this means to the layperson is that instead of transporting fuel from reactor sites to Yucca Mountain in one container, removing it (either in a pool or inert, dry environment), and then repackaging it in another container, most of the used fuel will be shipped in standardized containers that can be placed into an overpack and installed directly in the repository.
This plan makes a lot of sense.
Moving individual fuel assemblies around whenever the mood strikes is the best way to damage them. And while there are several methods to safely handle damaged fuel, they are costly and time-consuming. This proposal means that the vast majority of fuel will be handled the minimal number of times between core discharge and placement in a repository. A standardized design for the canisters would also facilitate efficient removal of the fuel for recycling if such technologies are later available.
Most importantly, I’m hopeful that focusing on this reasonable approach will, in DOE’s words, simplify the design and license application for the repository; because ultimately, after protecting the health and the safety of the public, DOE’s next greatest responsibility is to expedite the removal of used fuel from reactor sites.
Technorati tags: Nuclear Energy, Energy, Yucca Mountain