AIKEN, S.C. – DOE has approved a new plan that will accelerate the disposition of spent nuclear fuel (SNF) at the Savannah River Site (SRS) by more than 20 years and result in a savings of more than $4 billion dollars.
Under the newly approved approach, called Accelerated Basin De-inventory (ABD), SRS will dissolve the SNF at the site’s H Canyon chemical separations facility and send it through the site’s liquid waste program to be vitrified and safely stored onsite until a federal repository is identified.
“The Department of Energy and its contractors are committed to reducing costs, completing projects more quickly and safely, optimizing operations, and engaging employees in a highly effective production environment,” DOE Savannah River Site Manager Mike Budney said. “The ABD solution to improve the Savannah River Site cleanup mission embodies this approach.”
Since 1995, H Canyon has been used to dissolve SNF from the site’s L Area Disassembly Basin, or L Basin, an underwater facility that safely receives and stores SNF from foreign and domestic research reactors. After dissolution, H Canyon used complex chemical processes to purify and blend the resulting highly enriched uranium (HEU) with natural uranium to produce low enriched uranium (LEU). The LEU was then used in commercial power reactors to make electricity. This approach made HEU non-proliferable, or no longer usable for nuclear weapons.
“There are so many reasons that ABD is a better path forward,” said Eloy Saldivar, the ABD program manager for SRS management and operations contractor Savannah River Nuclear Solutions.
The new approach allows for the disposition of L-Basin’s SNF inventory.
“L Basin is nearing its storage capacity, and there are other cheaper sources of fuel for commercial power reactors, so our LEU is no longer needed,” Saldivar said. “ABD is just a cheaper, faster and simpler approach to dispositioning SNF.”
While H Canyon is the only operating production-scale nuclear radiochemical separations facility in the U.S., Saldivar noted that the facility is nearly 70 years old and expensive to maintain and operate.
ABD allows certain H Canyon systems to be made inactive, saving processing and associated upkeep and maintenance costs. The new approach also allows SRS to disposition the more than 3,000 SNF bundles in L Basin by the mid-2030s, compared to 2060 under the previous approach.
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