Savannah River Site has restarted a process in its H Canyon facility that will allow uranium from spent nuclear fuel currently stored there to be shipped out of South Carolina.
The site has restarted the first cycle unit in H Canyon for the first time in more than five years, according to the Department of Energy. In this process, uranium from spent nuclear fuel is separated from aluminum, fission products and other impurities.
This is the fourth of five unit operations to restart since 2013, allowing SRS to process 1,000 bundles of spent nuclear fuel and 200 high-flux isotope reactor cores.
The last operation waiting to be restarted is blend down to low enriched uranium, according to the agency. That process is estimated to restart within two years, said Patrick McGuire, the DOE’s assistant manager for nuclear material stabilization.
“After blend down, the (uranium) will be shipped to a Tennessee Valley Authority vendor for the manufacture of reactor fuel to be used for the production of commercial nuclear power,” McGuire said. “The last shipment made to the vendor was in November 2011.”
As more material is shipped, more spent fuel stored at SRS will be able to be processed and shipped out, McGuire said.
In the blend-down process, highly enriched uranium recovered from bundles of spent fuel rods from foreign and domestic research reactors is mixed with natural uranium to make low enriched uranium.
“Disposition of the approximately 1,000 bundles and up to 200 (high-flux isotope reactor) cores is expected to be completed in 2024, which would potentially allow DOE to authorize more missions for H Canyon,” McGuire said.
H Canyon is the only operating, production-scale, radiologically shielded chemical separations facility in the country. Originally constructed to produce nuclear materials for the nation’s weapons programs, its mission changed after the Cold War into one of helping to dispose of and stabilize nuclear materials and spent nuclear fuel from legacy cleanup and from research reactors.