DOE approves method to hasten legacy waste removal

22 April 2022

A new method to remove and process used fuel at the Savannah River site in South Carolina that will save more than 20 years of work and billions of dollars in costs has been approved by the US Department of Energy Office of Environmental Management (DOE EM).

The H-Canyon facility (Image: DOE EM)

The Accelerated Basin De-inventory (ABD) mission will allow Savannah River Site (SRS) to process all remaining used nuclear fuel in the L-Basin storage area using conventional processing but without recovering highly enriched uranium, and immobilise the resulting dissolved material to be disposed in the future.

According to an entry in the US Federal Register, DOE now intends to manage some 29.2 tonnes of heavy metal stored in L-Basin - used nuclear fuel and target materials - using the new method at the H-Canyon facility at SRS. Processing of the material is anticipated to begin this year, and continue for about 12 to 13 years. The dissolved material will ultimately be immobilised in a borosilicate glass waste form in the Defense Waste Processing Facility at the site. H-Canyon is the only large-scale, remotely operated, radiologically sealed chemical separations plant operating in the USA.

The ABD method will convert the dissolved nuclear material to forms that are proliferation resistant and can be safely stored for long periods with minimal maintenance, DOE EM said. It will accelerate work to remove used fuel from L-Basin while maintaining safety and security, free up space in L-Basin for other uses, and save taxpayers some USD4 billion.

SRS has, since 1964, received more than 2,467 casks containing over 47,880 used fuel assemblies from domestic and foreign research reactors. Since 1998, all of this has been consolidated in L-Basin, which since 2003 has been the only fuel receipt and storage facility at SRS.

H Canyon - so named because the processing areas inside the building resemble a gorge in a deep valley between steeply vertical cliffs - began operations in 1955. According to the DOE EM, the facility historically recovered uranium and neptunium from fuel tubes used in nuclear reactors at SRS, to produce radioactive materials used in making nuclear weapons. After the end of the Cold War, the facility's mission changed to one of non-proliferation and environmental cleanup.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News