Used fuel from VTT’s research reactor set for further use in USA

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A US-based research reactor received the used fuel from VTT's FiR 1 research reactor located in Otaniemi, Espoo. The reactor at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in Denver can continue operating for several years with the fuel it receives from Finland. At the end of operation, the United States will take care of the fuel. The dismantling of the FiR 1 reactor will begin at the end of 2022.

The USGS will use the nuclear fuel from the Otaniemi research reactor in its own reactor of the same type. The fuel, purchased by  Finland in the 1960s and 1970s, has a remarkable remaining utility value after the permanent shutdown of the FiR 1 reactor. The USGS needed additional fuel to continue operating its reactor, but the production of suitable fuel has been suspended for several years.

The contract for the supply of used fuel was concluded last November, and VTT has now delivered the fuel to the USGS. The transport of fuel by road and sea was supervised by the Finnish Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority (STUK) and US authorities.

-  The removal of used fuel is an important milestone in the decommissioning of the research reactor. Next, we will focus on the final planning of and preparation for dismantling. The project creates new expertise in Finland, for which there is also international demand," says Project Manager Markus Airila.

VTT discontinued the use of FiR 1 in 2015 and has applied to the Government for a licence to decommission the reactor. VTT announced the dispatch of the used fuel in a letter to the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment today, and excluded spent fuel from its license application. 

Arranging spent fuel management abroad is an exception permitted by the Finnish Nuclear Energy Act. Before sending the fuel, Finland received a report from the US authorities on their commitment to the management of the fuel batch. When the USGS ceases to use its reactor, it will deliver the spent fuel to the Idaho National Laboratory. The US Department of Energy (DOE) will take care of the fuel through a procedure that meets VTT's previous plans.
 
Last year, VTT signed a contract with Fortum on the dismantling of the reactor and other decommissioning services. Fortum will begin dismantling the FiR 1 reactor at the end of 2022.

The FiR 1 reactor, commissioned in 1962, had a colourful service life and supported the research of moon rocks, gold exploration, cancer treatments and, above all, served as a key training and research facility for nuclear energy. Even during its dismantling phase, the research reactor will bring valuable experience to the decommissioning of Finnish nuclear power plants in the coming decades. 

Globally, decommissioning is already topical following the decision of several countries to phase out nuclear energy. VTT has brought together the expertise of several Finnish companies in a separate dECOmm project aiming at the international nuclear power plant decommissioning market.

Picture: FiR 1 fuel elements packed into an inner basket of a massive transport cask. The photo is from the reactor pool, where water provides an effective shielding against radiation.

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Markus Airila

Markus Airila

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