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Overview of Security Considerations for the Back-end of the United States Fuel Cycle

Publication Type
Conference Proceeding

Over 75,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel (SNF) is safely and securely stored at over 70 locations around the United States. Assuring the continued safety, security, and safeguarding of this material must be maintained throughout the life cycle. When the nuclear fuel in a reactor no longer contributes effectively to the power production process, it is discharged and replaced by new fuel. The discharged fuel is placed into an onsite water-filled pool. This cyclic process continues until the plant is permanently closed or the pool fills up. When nuclear power plants in the United States were originally designed, it was expected that onsite storage would be temporary and that the SNF would be removed from the spent fuel pools after only a few years of cooling and sent for reprocessing. Commercial reprocessing in the United States was not implemented and the spent fuel pools started to reach capacity limits. To continue power production, nuclear utilities began expanding their on-site SNF storage capabilities by installing dry storage cask systems. Dry storage casks are robust systems typically consisting of a sealed metal cylinder surrounded by a combination of steel and concrete to provide shielding. The first dry storage casks were loaded in 1986. Currently there are over 2000 loaded dry storage casks with approximately 200 new casks being placed into service annually at operating nuclear power plants nationwide. Multiple commercial nuclear power plant sites in the United States have shut down and completed decommissioning with the exception of removal of the dry storage casks, and several other nuclear power plants have recently shutdown and are undergoing decommissioning. All of this fuel will need to be safely and securely transported to a new location(s) for eventual disposition. To date, there has not been a radiation release that affected the public or contaminated the environment from a dry storage cask. Additionally, there have been no known or suspected attempts to sabotage dry cask storage facilities. This paper provides an overview of the back-end of the fuel cycle in the United States and summarizes past considerations and recommendations regarding storage and transportation security