The Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board (NWTRB) has released a comprehensive assessment of U.S. Department of Energy research into high burnup spent nuclear fuel (SNF). This independent federal agency is charged with evaluating the technical and scientific validity of DOE activities related to managing and disposing of high-level radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel.

Research has bolstered confidence that low-burnup SNF can be stored for extended periods and transported in accordance with federal regulatory requirements. The NWTRB evaluation offers research and policy recommendations for similarly improving confidence in high burnup SNF.

The recommendations cover SNF drying, hydrogen effects in high burnup SNF cladding, high-burnup SNF performance under normal conditions of dry storage and high-burnup SNF performance under normal conditions of transport.

Among its proposals, NWTRB recommends that DOE evaluate the extent to which chemisorbed water remains after the drying process is completed and whether this water could affect the ability of SNF cask or canister systems and their contents to continue to meet storage and transportation requirements. A need for new testing of high burnup fuel cladding indicates that DOE research focus on irradiated samples rather than unirradiated samples to avoid the large uncertainties and difficulties in interpreting test results that arise from using unirradiated samples.

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