By Susan Mumm

This article originally appeared on the University of Illinois NPRE Department Website

A project that would provide wet interim storage for used nuclear fuel has won the 2017 Daniel F. Hang Outstanding Senior Design Award.

Currently, decommissioned nuclear reactors bear the costs and responsibilities of storing and maintaining spent nuclear fuel on site. Katie Mummah, Jin Wan Bae, Dan O’Grady and Alex Lopez, now new graduates of Nuclear, Plasma, and Radiological Engineering at Illinois, offered the solution, Nuclear Waste Wet Interim Storage (NuWWIS).

“While currently operating facilities can cover the cost of this storage from their revenue, decommissioned reactors must continue to store this fuel even without revenue generation,” Mummah said. “In some cases, this fuel represents the last obstacle to obtaining green field status, in which the reactor is fully decommissioned and nothing remains on site.”

The U.S. federal government’s initial goal of establishing a permanent geological repository to store spent nuclear fuel by 1998 was halted, and a solution is not expected in the near-term. Generating plants were constructed with pools to hold the waste temporarily, but those have reached maximum capacity and spent fuel now is being held in dry casks onsite.

NuWWIS calls for removing the spent fuel from decommissioned plants and transferring it to a centralized location. “Our project was developed due to a growing interest in interim storage, as the number of decommissioned reactors continues to grow,” Mummah said. “The benefits that arise from taking this fuel from the decommissioned site are comparable to the cost of the interim storage.”

The students’ project would be able to store spent fuel currently in dry cask storage as well as that in wet storage. “NuWWIS will also ease the transportation of spent nuclear fuel when a final repository is opened, as all the spent nuclear fuel from all 27 decommissioned reactors would be coming from one location,” Mummah said.

The Hang award was created in honor of the late Emeritus Prof. Daniel F. Hang, one of NPRE’s founders. Hang, who died at the age of 95 in December 2013, was passionate about nuclear engineering design, and emphasized the coupling of economics analysis with successful design work. He also strongly advocated students becoming licensed Professional Engineers.