NEW REACTOR: Sandia researcher Gary Harms conducts experiments with a new Sandia-built reactor that are paving the way toward possible changes in regulations on transport and storage of nuclear waste. (Photo by Randy Montoya)
Recent experiments by Sandia National Laboratories researcher Gary Harms and his team are using a new Labs-built reactor to provide benchmarks showing that spent nuclear fuel — uranium that has been used as fuel at a nuclear power plant — is considerably less reactive than the original fresh fuel. This could mean significant savings in the eventual safe transport, storage, and disposal of nuclear waste.
“The conservative view has always been to treat spent fuel like it just came out of the factory with its full reactivity,” Harms, project lead, says. “This results in the numbers of canisters required in the handling of spent nuclear fuel to be conservatively high, driving up shipping and storage costs.”
The more realistic view is that as nuclear fuel is burned, the reactivity of the fuel decreases due to the consumption of some of the uranium and to the accumulation of fission products, the “ash” left from burning the nuclear fuel. Accounting for this reactivity decrease, called burnup credit, would allow for the spent nuclear fuel to be safely packed in more dense arrays for transportation, storage, and disposal than would be possible if the composition changes were ignored.
Chris Burroughs | EurekAlert!
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