A new type of nuclear fuel is replacing the type that's currently in use, meaning the fuel waste that Millstone and other plants will be loading into on-site dry cask storage units will be different, too.
“It's expected that in 10 to 15 years, what they're going to be loading is high burn-up fuel waste, and that's what they'll be storing into the future,” said Christine King, director of fuels, chemistry and high-level waste for the Electric Power Research Institute, based in Palo Alto, Calif. “When it's loaded, it will be hotter” than today's lower burn-up waste.
High burn-up fuel produces more fission products and, in turn, more electricity than the fuel it's replacing, King said.
She and other researchers at EPRI will undertake a multi-year study on the effects of the high burn-up fuel waste on dry casks. Announced this week, the $15.8 million study is being commissioned by the U.S. Department of Energy. The nuclear power industry is paying 20 percent of the cost.
For the study, EPRI will design and test dry cask storage for high burn-up waste, which King said is typically held in deep water pools for 10 to 15 years before it is cool enough for dry casks. Low burn-up waste typically stays in water pools for five years before it is moved. Gauging the temperature of the high burn-up waste to determine when it is ready to be moved will be a key part of the study.
“We don't think we're going to exceed 400 degrees centigrade, but we need to confirm that we don't need any changes to the casks,” she said.
The study also will assess the cumulative effects of the new fuel on the dry casks.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission authorizes dry casks as safe for storage of spent nuclear fuel for 120 years, even though nuclear waste was intended to be stored long-term at a federal repository, not on-site at nuclear plants. There is currently no active plan for creation of a federal repository, however.
“This study is preparation for the reality that the plants have,” King said.
- Judy Benson
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