The UK Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) is responsible for safe and secure management of spent nuclear fuel. Magnox spent fuel is held at some Magnox reactor sites and at Sellafield where it is reprocessed using a number of facilities. It is intended that all Magnox fuel will be reprocessed, as described in the published Magnox Operating Plan (MOP) . In the event, however, that a failure occurs within the reprocessing plant, the NDA has initiated a programme of activities to explore alternative contingency options for the management of wetted Magnox spent fuel. Magnox fuel comprises metallic uranium bar clad in a magnesium alloy, both of which corrode if exposed to oxygen or water. Consequently, contingency options are required to consider how best to manage the issues associated with the reactivity of the metals. Questions of whether Magnox spent fuel needs to be dried, how it might be conditioned, how it might be packaged, and held in temporary storage until a disposal facility becomes available, all require attention. A review of potential contingency options for Magnox fuel was conducted by Galson Sciences Ltd, UKAEA and the NDA. During storage in the presence of water, the corrosion of Magnox fuel produces hydrogen (H2) gas, which requires careful management. When uranium reacts with hydrogen in a reducing environment, the formation of uranium hydride (UH3) may occur, which under some circumstances can be pyrophoric, and might create hazards which may affect subsequent retrieval and/or repackaging (e.g. for disposal). Other factors that may affect the choice of a viable contingency option include criticality safety, environmental impacts, security and Safeguards and economic considerations. At post-irradiation examination (PIE) facilities in the UK, Magnox spent fuel is dried as a result of storage in air at ambient temperatures. Early French UNGG (Uranium Naturel Graphite Gaz) fuel was retrieved from pond storage at Cadarache, dried using a hot gas drying technique, oxidised and packaged in sealed canisters and placed in interim storage at the CASCAD (CASemate CADarache) facility. In the US, spent fuels including the Zircaloy clad Hanford N-Reactor fuels were cold vacuum dried and Idaho legacy aluminium clad metallic uranium fuels were hot vacuum dried; the dried fuel was then packaged in sealed and vented canisters (at Hanford and Idaho, respectively) for interim storage. With regard to conditioning and packaging, several different approaches have been reviewed, including encapsulation in cementitious grout or polymer, high-temperature vitrification or ceramicisation, and solution in acid or alkali solution followed by cementation or vitrification (without reprocessing). All of these approaches require further research in order to be evaluated and developed further for application to formerly wetted Magnox fuel. A variety of containers have been developed for the transport, storage and/or disposal of spent fuel in radioactive waste management programmes worldwide. Wetted Magnox spent fuel could be packaged in a container, with reservations about the potential formation of UH3 in a sealed environment where reducing conditions may develop. The applicability of different combinations of drying, conditioning and packaging techniques to the preparation of Magnox spent fuel for long-term storage and eventual disposal are discussed.
- Nuclear Engineering Division and Environmental Engineering Division
Contingency Options for the Drying, Conditioning and Packaging of Magnox Spent Fuel in the UK
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Morris, J, Wickham, S, Richardson, P, Rhodes, C, & Newland, M. "Contingency Options for the Drying, Conditioning and Packaging of Magnox Spent Fuel in the UK." Proceedings of the ASME 2009 12th International Conference on Environmental Remediation and Radioactive Waste Management. ASME 2009 12th International Conference on Environmental Remediation and Radioactive Waste Management, Volume 1. Liverpool, UK. October 11–15, 2009. pp. 817-823. ASME. https://doi.org/10.1115/ICEM2009-16331
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