The Transportation of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste
A Systematic Basis for Planning and Management at the National, Regional, and Community Levels
The radioactive wastes which require geologic disposal and which could be shipped to a centralized storage facility at the Nevada Test Site (Area 25) to await permanent disposal are in three broad categories: SNF from commercial power plants, HLW from the nation's defense complex, and other wastes requiring geologic disposal. It is convenient to consider the current and projected inventory of these wastes with reference to their key relevant information sources. This, however, introduces some minor anomalies. For example, a portion of research and miscellaneous spent fuel is included in the current inventory of commercial SNF, since it is included in the key information source (prioritized spent fuel discharges) for this category. Also, the consideration of other wastes requires special attention to avoid double-counting.
Through November 1994, 30,044 metric tons of SNF had been permanently discharged from U.S. reactors, and had received priority ranking for acceptance by DOE (see Table 2-1). Of the November 1994 total,
Ranked spent fuel discharges do not include naval reactor fuel, foreign research fuel, or spent fuel discharged from defense reactors. Nor does it include the HLW that have accumulated at defense sites.
DOE has projected annual spent fuel discharges from 1994 through 2042 at commercial reactors,4 under a case which assumes no-new-reactor orders and operations through the current NRC license term (with no early shut downs and no license extensions). The projected discharges include 56,655 MTU in 19,900 BWR and 36,800 PWR assemblies.
In this assessment, 1994 discharges are the "actuals" reported in DOE's 1995 Acceptance Priority Ranking through November 28, 1994. The differences between the actuals for 1994 and DOE's 1994 projections are included in the projected discharges for 1995, so that the projections for 1994 through 2042 are consistent with DOE's forecast for the no-new-orders, NRC license term case.
DOE's forecast is presented by the reactor from which the assemblies are discharged. This assessment identifies the pool location (separate, shared, or joined) to which the fuel would be discharged, but does not attempt to project future transfers of spent fuel to onsite dry storage facilities or to pools at other sites owned by the same utility or others.
Combining projected spent fuel discharges with those through November 28, 1994, the total inventory includes 86,699 MTU in 30,700 BWR and 55,900 PWR assemblies. This total, however, does not include projections of spent fuel from research reactors, or projected naval reactor fuel, foreign research fuel, or HLW from defense facilities.
Alternative projections of waste requiring geologic disposal could be considered in alternative scenarios. Some of the contingencies that might be considered in alternative scenarios are briefly discussed below:
DOE's forecast for the no-new-orders, NRC license term case includes discharges for five reactors scheduled for startup after 1993, the base year for the DOE forecast:
— Bellefonte 1, projected to discharge 2,193 PWR assemblies and 913 MTU between 2000 and 2039.
— Bellefonte 2, projected to discharge 2,076 PWR assemblies and 864 MTU between 2003 and 2042.
— Comanche Peak 2, projected to discharge 2,081 PWR assemblies and 856 MTU between 1994 and 2033.
— Watts Bar 1, projected to discharge 1,725 PWR assemblies and 800 MTU between 1996 and 2035.
— Watts Bar 2, projected to discharge 1,648 PWR assemblies and 763 MTU between 1998 and 2037.
It is possible, even likely, that the above plants, though licensed, will never operate. In this case, projected discharges would be reduced by 9,723 PWR assemblies or 4,196 MTU, about 17.4 percent of the total inventory of 55,900 PWR assemblies in the no-new-orders case, and about 4.8 percent of total projected MTU.
The economics of generating nuclear power in increasingly competitive electric power markets, as well as the cost of dealing with aging nuclear reactors6 and/or problems in providing onsite storage capacity, could persuade utilities to shut down some reactors before their NRC license term. The transportation effects of such decisions, which would reduce the revenue base for the nuclear waste fund, and complicate the financing of plant decommissioning, could be considered in an alternative inventory scenario.
Extension of operating licenses beyond the standard 40-year term has been periodically considered by the NRC and utilities. Extensions would be contingent on the solution of problems associated with aging reactors and onsite storage, but could augment the nuclear waste fund as well as funds for decommissioning. The transportation effects of possible license extensions could be considered in an alternative inventory scenario.
High-level waste is generated by the chemical reprocessing of spent research and production reactor fuel, irradiated targets and naval propulsion fuel. It exists in a variety of physical or chemical forms, all of which must be stored behind heavy shielding and usually in underground tanks or bins. Since DOE decided in 1992 to phase out the domestic reprocessing of irradiated nuclear fuel for the recovery of enriched uranium or plutonium, little additional generation of HLW is expected.
Current DOE plans are to immobilize HLW through a vitrification process, and to package it in canisters for storage at the four sites where it was produced (Hanford, INEL, Savannah River, West Valley) and for shipment to the geologic repository for disposal. The canisters are expected to be about 2 feet in diameter and from 10 to 15 feet in length. However, since pretreatment and waste minimization processes at the INEL and Hanford sites have not yet been finalized, the dimensions and number of canisters to be produced from those sites is less certain than at Savannah River and West Valley.
DOE's Integrated Data Base Report5 (the source for the above summary) provides a projection of the number of canisters of HLW expected to be produced at each of the four sites, noting that "projected inventories. . .(are) based on certain assumptions, and therefore should be considered only as current best estimates." An alternative projection, with substantially higher production estimates for Hanford and INEL, is provided in DOE's Waste Management Programmatic EIS7 This assessment combines the canister production rate from the first source with the canister production totals from the second (Figure 2-1). It is assumed that the canisters would be stored at the sites where they are produced, awaiting shipment to a centralized storage or permanent disposal facility.
A variety of other radioactive wastes require permanent geologic disposal. Under DOE waste management plans or DOE agreements with states such as Idaho, these wastes could be shipped to a centralized above-ground facility for storage while awaiting permanent disposal. A recent DOE document8 provides the best available information on the inventory of such wastes, which could total about 2,700 MTU, about 9.0 percent of the commercial spent fuel discharged through November 1994. This section briefly discusses the categories and projected inventory of "other wastes requiring geologic disposal," but the schedule, packages, and routes by which they would be shipped to Nevada are not included in this assessment.
Spent fuel from the power plants of the Navy's submarines and aircraft carriers is being shipped to INEL for storage, but, under an October 1995 agreement with the State of Idaho, must be removed from the state by 2035. The current inventory of such fuel at INEL is about 10.23 MTU, and an additional 55 tons may be accumulated.
About 2,100 MTU of SNF has been generated at Hanford's weapons production reactors (reactors N and K) and about 150 MTU at Savannah River. Prior to DOE's 1992 decision, this spent fuel would have been reprocessed—producing enriched uranium or plutonium as well as HLW. Under the 1992 decision, however, it will be packaged for shipment to a permanent geologic repository, perhaps via a centralized above-ground storage facility.
Spent fuel has been discharged from research reactors at INEL (about 263.9 MTU), Savannah River (about 56.3 MTU), Hanford (about 32.4 MTU), Oak Ridge (about 1.8 MTU), and elsewhere (Battelle, Sandia, Los Alamos, Argonne-East: about 2.3 MTU). This material, which is in assemblies generally about one-quarter of the size of BWR assemblies will require geologic disposal.
About 5.5 MTU from non-DOE research reactors (about 90 percent from research reactors at universities, about 10 percent from research reactors at other federal agencies or commercial sites) will require geologic disposal. This total does not include the 3.2 MTU of spent fuel from the General Atomics research reactor near San Diego, which has acceptance priority under the standard contract.
About 21.7 MTU of spent fuel provided for research in foreign countries is being returned to the U.S. (arriving at various ports of entry) for management and disposal at a geologic repository. The fuel may be shipped for storage at DOE facilities (e.g., Hanford, INEL, Savannah River) pending subsequent transportation to a centralized storage or disposal site.
Current Inventory: Discharges Through November 28, 1994
Future Additions: Discharges 1995 through 2042
Spent Fuel Storage Req: 1994-2042 (Tables B.1a & 1b),
via PIC: DISCHG, ACCPT94V, ACCPT95X
Figure 2-1a. Cumulative Projected Production of HLW Canisters at West Valley, Savannah River, Hanford, and Idaho National Engineering Lab
Figure 2-1b. Cumulative Projected HLW CanistersShipped and Remaining at Production Sites