Scientists at Savannah River Stumped By Strange Growths on Spent Fuel and Nuclear Waste

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Savannah River Site scientists are working to identify a strange growth found on racks of spent nuclear fuel collected from foreign governments.

The “white, stringlike” material was found among thousands of spent fuel assemblies submerged in deep pools within the site’s L Area, according to a report filed by the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, a federal oversight panel.

“The growth, which resembles a spider web, has yet to be characterized, but may be biological in nature,” the report said.

Savannah River National Laboratory collected a small sample in hopes of identifying the mystery lint – and determining whether it is alive.

The Augusta Chronicle reported today that the “white, string-like” material was discovered amidst thousands of the spent fuel assemblies, which are submerged in deep nuclear storage pools within SRS’s L Area Complex.

L Area, with 3-foot-thick concrete walls, includes pools that range from 17 to 30 feet deep, where submerged racks are used to store an array of assemblies – some containing highly enriched uranium – from foreign and domestic research reactors. The material is kept there for national security reasons.

The safety board’s report said the initial sample collected was too small to allow further characterization.

“Further evaluation still needs to be completed,” the report said.

The Savannah River Site’s storage facility (The L Area Complex mentioned above) stores spent nuclear waste in pools that are anywhere from 17-30 feet deep, and while that water is enough to protect the site’s workers from radiation, the growth was reportedly found underwater on the submerged fuel assemblies themselves.

Will Callicott, a spokesman for Savannah River National Laboratory, said in an e-mail that officials hope to collect a larger sample for analysis.

“But whatever it is, (it) doesn’t appear to be causing any damage,” he said.


L Area

New SandfilterUnderwater storage facilities, called disassembly basins, were located in all five SRS production reactor areas. These facilities were designed to store SNF and target assemblies discharged from the reactor cores. This storage allowed the nuclear material to cool after being irradiated in the reactors. The basins were also used to prepare the nuclear materials for transport to the F and H area processing facilities.

L Basin contains two overhead cranes that handle spent fuel casks. These cranes were installed in the 1950s. Modernization projects have been recently completed on both cranes to improve crane performance and reliability.

The 120 Ton crane in L Stack Area is used to perform initial receipt and breakdown of the spent fuel cask prior to unloading in the basin. The crane is also used after cask unloading to support decontamination and re-assembly of the cask package for shipment off site. The upgrades performed to the crane were to modernize the electrical controls and power systems, and to replace the crane hoists and trolleys.

The 85/30 Ton crane used to handle casks in the spent fuel pool has also been modernized. The cranes electrical systems have been modernized by installation of variable frequency drives, new motors, and radio control capability.

LWT System

In 1996, L Basin equipment was reconfigured to safely handle and store SNF from off-site (foreign and domestic) research reactors.

In February 1997, the first off-site fuel was received and stored in L Basin. To avoid the cost of operating multiple facilities, SRS decided in 1998 to consolidate all of SRS’s stored spent fuel into the much larger, recently refurbished L Basin. By 2003, L Basin was SRS’s only fuel receipt and storage facility.

L Basin has concrete walls 3 feet thick and holds 3.5 million gallons of water with pool depths of 17 to 30 feet.  Since 1964, SRS has received more than 2,290 casks containing over 45,000 SNF assemblies.

Since 1996, the L Area Complex (LAC) has received about 9,500 SNF assemblies in 444 casks from off-site sources. Fuel types include high and low enriched uranium spent fuel. LAC has received and handled about 10 different SNF transportation casks weighing up to 65,000 pounds. LAC also made about 360 on-site spent fuel casks transfers during this time.

Source: Augusta Chronicle

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