The U.S. Department of Energy on Jan. 8 released a supplemental environmental analysis on the potential impacts of the proposed transportation of a small quantity of commercial power spent nuclear fuel (SNF) from the North Anna Nuclear Power Station to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Tennessee for research purposes.
Following processing and initial test work at ORNL, some SNF would remain at ORNL for future testing, while some would be transported to the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) near Richland Washington. A limited amount of defueled cladding would be transported to Argonne National Laboratory near Lemont, Illinois, for additional research.
The new analyis contains: a description of the transportation of fuel and cladding; the radiological emissions and potential human health impacts of the transportation, processing and testing; and waste management. In addition, it looks at new information not previously addressed in the existing environmental assessments including: intentional destructive acts, an updated dose conversion factor, and greenhouse gas emissions.
In the 1980s and early 1990s, the Dry Cask Storage Characterization Project provided data that confirmed the safety of low burnup commercial SNF in extended storage and transportation operational environments. This project was a joint effort between DOE, the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). In this low burnup project, a cask that had been loaded with SNF was opened after approximately 15 years and the fuel and internals inspected. All of the materials, including the fuel assemblies, appeared as they did when the cask was first loaded, thus confirming the expectations based on laboratory data.
Similar data supporting the extended dry storage and transportation of high burnup commercial SNF are much more limited. In addition, high burnup fuel is known to have different properties than low burnup fuel. During relicensing proceedings, the NRC raised questions about the ability of high burnup SNF to maintain its integrity during extended storage and transportation. DOE and EPRI developed the High Burnup Spent Fuel Data Project to address such questions. The U.S. nuclear industry has referred to the anticipated data from this project as justification for the long-term storage of high burnup SNF, and the NRC has accepted this rational, illustrating the need for this work.
The proposed action analyzed in this supplemental analysis is intended to provide important information on whether high burnup SNF can maintain its integrity during extended storage and transportation.
Under the High Burnup Spent Fuel Data Project, an NRC-licensed storage cask would be loaded with 32 high burnup SNF assemblies at Dominion’s (NYSE: D) North Anna Nuclear Power Station in Lake Anna, Virginia. The cask would be stored at the North Anna Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation (ISFSI), where temperatures would be monitored and gas samples taken.
In parallel, under the proposed action, 25 individual high burnup fuel rods (called “sister rods”) would be removed either from assemblies going into the cask or from assemblies with similar irradiation histories. Over approximately nine years, DOE would perform a variety of experiments on these 25 sister rods to provide a baseline of properties against which to compare the SNF stored in the cask at the North Anna ISFSI. Comparing the sister rod baseline data with data from the SNF after long-term storage would provide the necessary validation of potential degradation mechanisms that could then be used to predict SNF performance under extended storage and transportation environments.