ORNL receives spent fuel canister to support long-term storage studies

The receipt of a nuclear fuel canister is boosting the research of an Oak Ridge National Laboratory team investigating methods to help the nation effectively dispose of nuclear waste for the long term.

The high-level radioactive waste generated from a nuclear power reactor to supply a person’s electricity needs over a 100-year lifetime would be about the size of 100 sheets of paper,” said Rose Montgomery, leader of ORNL’s Used Fuel and Nuclear Material Disposition group. “My team’s goal is to help the U.S. Department of Energy in its mission to reduce that volume even further and to figure out long-term solutions for storing, handling and disposing of the nation’s nuclear fuel currently being held in interim storage.”

The canister, originally slated for use by the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in California but never used to store spent fuel, stands over 16 feet tall and weighs about 22 tons empty – roughly the equivalent of five small pickup trucks. ORNL is one of three national labs selected to receive canisters from the U.S. Department of Energy for ongoing nuclear storage research projects. 

The canisters play an essential role in the nuclear power industry, which is a major component of the nation’s carbon-free electricity production.

“The nuclear energy industry is unique among power generation options in that its used fuel is inertly stored in sealed canisters that are robustly designed as required by the stringent requirements of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Department of Energy, and the Environmental Protection Agency,” Montgomery said. “The used fuel is tracked and traceable, and it can be retrieved at any time for reprocessing and reuse.”