The US Department of Energy Spent Fuel and Waste Science and Technology (SFWST) program is performing research to determine the mechanical loading conditions applied to spent nuclear fuel (SNF) during normal conditions of transport to inform mechanical tests of SNF and close an important knowledge gap related to the practical disposition of SNF in the US. Researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) have completed an extensive finite element study to characterize and estimate the potential mechanical loads on SNF during a hypothetical 30 cm drop of an SNF transportation package. This modeling study is validated with test data collected by the SFWST program during a physical test campaign that included one-third scale package drop tests and full-scale single fuel assembly drop tests. The test campaign was led by Sandia National Laboratories (SNL) and included international collaboration with Equipos Nucleares S.A, S.M.E (ENSA) and Bundesanstalt für Materialforschung und -prüfung (BAM).

The key contribution of the modeling study is to go beyond the limitations of the limited number of physical tests to estimate the impact response to variations in impact angle, initial gap conditions, fuel assembly design, burnup and other parameters that affect the mechanical loads. The methodology of this study included a classic parametric study to calculate the impact response of highly detailed fuel assemblies over many combinations of parameters. Models of a 17 × 17 pressurized water reactor fuel assembly and a generic 10 × 10 boiling water reactor fuel assembly were both used in this study to cover the major fuel assembly types in the US inventory. Over 2,000 impact responses were calculated. The results of the parametric study were evaluated using traditional methods and basic statistics. The results were also used to construct a damage model using multiple nonlinear regression techniques to predict the mechanical loads over the full range of all input parameters. The damage model was found to work very well for all impact angle cases where the cask came to rest on its side. It was concluded that end drop cases where the cask remained vertical (instead of tipping over onto its side) were not sufficiently characterized by the current set of parametric study cases to include in the damage model, but it was not a priority to fully investigate that range because the highest mechanical loads were observed in the broader range of side impact cases. This modeling work provides sufficient insight into the mechanical loads on SNF during a hypothetical 30 cm package drop that, when considered along with the physical test data collected by the SNL-led team, the SFSWT program can consider the knowledge gap closed.

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