Report cites 'vulnerabilities' of nuclear fuel stored at SRS

DOE must address 'vulnerabilities,' report says

Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013 12:05 PM
Last updated Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013 12:38 AM
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Aging and damaged spent nuclear fuel stored at Savannah River Site with no clear disposition path presents increasingly serious “vulnerabilities” that the U.S. Department of Energy must address, according to a new federal report.

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Spent nuclear fuel containers, such as this one at Savannah River Site, are under scrutiny by a federal safety board.  SPECIAL
Spent nuclear fuel containers, such as this one at Savannah River Site, are under scrutiny by a federal safety board.

The dangers, according to a technical assessment prepared by the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, include leaking, corroded and sometimes cracked containers, and the ongoing release of gases that indicate the radioactive material continues to degrade.

The report – dated Jan. 3 but made public this week – focuses on the site’s L-Area, where about 15,000 spent fuel assemblies are kept in underwater storage basins. The board’s concern was directed at the older material that accounts for about 10 percent of the L-Area’s inventory.

“Nearly all the inner cans containing metal fuel are approximately 50 years old, and DOE is considering the possibility of extended storage of these cans for an additional 50 years,” inspectors wrote in an analysis sent by board chairman Peter Winokur to David Huizenga, the Department of Energy’s senior adviser for environmental management.

Although spent nuclear fuel from commercial power plants – such as Plant Vogtle – is stored at those plants, a different kind of spent nuclear fuel has been gathered and stockpiled at Savannah River Site for many decades.

The submerged containers include the widely varied fuels from Cold War activities and from “research reactors” in the U.S. and dozens of foreign countries, whose programs once required highly enriched uranium fuel that today’s terrorists might want.

Two years ago, the safety board singled out one batch of corroded fuel – from the Sodium Reactor Experiment launched in California in the 1950s – as being particularly dangerous and most in need of attention.

The reactor, which made history in 1957 by powering homes in nearby Moorpark, was damaged during a coolant blockage two years later and was shut down for good in 1964.

As a result of the board’s concerns, work began in September to process the 36 cans of sodium reactor fuel at nearby H Canyon – the nation’s sole remaining facility where certain types of plutonium, highly enriched uranium and aluminum-clad spent fuels can be processed for disposal.

Other than the sodium reactor fuel, the board wrote, the rest of the spent fuel inventory in L Basin “lacks a disposition pathway” and needs attention.

“The limited inspection data indicate that many of the cans have significant corrosion and that some have failed leading to fuel degradation,” the report said, noting that the release of gas from several of the cans indicates the metal fuel is continuing to degrade.

“As the fuel degrades it becomes more difficult to handle, repackage, and/or process in the future, the report said.

In addition to the corroded fuels mentioned in the board report, L-Area also stores spent fuels – all containing weapons-grade material – recovered from other countries under the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Global Threat Reduction Initiative.

So far, material has been moved to SRS from Turkey, Israel, Japan, Indonesia, Taiwan, Australia, Canada, Germany, Romania, Portugal, Sweden, Brazil, Argentina, South Korea, the Netherlands, Greece, Austria, Denmark, Chile, Italy, United Kingdom, Venezuela, Thailand, Spain, Uruguay, Colombia and the Philippines.

According to a DOE fact sheet, the L-Area basin has concrete walls three feet thick and holds 3.5 million gallons of water with pool depths of 17 to 30 feet.


Here are some key findings from the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board’s report on older spent nuclear fuel assemblies:

• Oxide formation can cause handling problems due to sludge formation.

• Hydrogen gas accumulation can form “hydrides” that can spontaneously ignite in air.

• Cladding has ruptured, is missing, or was breached – allowing direct contact with water.

• Sealed cans that hold fuel initially packaged dry have leaked, allowing water inside.

• Fuel is stored in cans whose designs are vulnerable to developing leaks.

Source: Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board

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Riverman1 02/13/13 - 05:53 pm
Yucca Mt by default. The

Yucca Mt by default.

The repository was supposed to be built at Yucca Mt. They got the gold in hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of jobs, but we didn't even get the shaft here. They just send the stuff to us with not even a hole to put it in. It just leaks into the air and water.

I especially find this line comforting: "Hydrogen gas accumulation can form “hydrides” that can spontaneously ignite in air." What's the definition of a hydrogen bomb again?

soapy_725 02/14/13 - 09:20 am
Don't forget about the fault line?

The one beneath SRS. The gap in the earth's crust. The one that was part of 1940's scenario of nuclear waste disposal. Those pioneers did not even know what the long term reaction to nuclear energy production meant. The greater good was to produce a weapon to end all wars. Deal with the unknown later. Causality list were a part of there master plan. And what say we to all of the mutants that were to be produced by the effects on genetics? A correlation to all forms of cancer could certainly be drawn.

Bubba 02/14/13 - 10:23 am
Me and Riverman agree on something. Film at 11.

I lay the problem at the feet of President Carter, who, deciding not to close the loop on the Fuel Rod cycle by recycling those rods in "Temporary" strorage over 35 years ago brought this problem to us today.
Utility rate payers whose power provider had nuclear production had a fee tacked on to their utility bills to pay for "permanent" storage. That storage was to be Yucca Mountain, as I recall. So that state got a multi-billion dollar boondoggle, digging a hole they disingenuously never intended to use. Pathetic.
And yes, SC get's screwed over double, by taking money out of our pockets for No storage in Yucca, and no plan for it, and we are the "bagholders", and that bag is filled with those old fuel rods. Lovely.

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