Shielding of Spent Fuel in Spent Fuel Pool

Spent fuel pool
Spent fuel pool. Source: License: Public Domain

Spent fuel pool (SFP) is storage pool for spent nuclear fuel from nuclear reactors. Spent fuel pool may be located inside the containment building or inside the fuel building (outside the containment building). When located outside the containment building, the two areas are connected by a fuel transfer system which carries the fuel through a normally closed opening in the reactor containment. In this case spent fuel is removed from the reactor vessel by a manipulator crane and placed in the fuel transfer system. In the spent fuel pool, the fuel is removed from the transfer system and placed into storage racks. After a suitable decay period, the fuel can be removed from storage and loaded into a shipping cask for removal from the site. Spent fuel pools are typically 12m or more deep, with the bottom equipped with storage racks designed to hold fuel assemblies removed from the reactor. A reactor’s pool is specially designed for the reactor in which the fuel was used and situated at the reactor site.

Shielding of Spent Fuel in Spent Fuel Pool

It must be noted, irradiated fuel is due to presence of high amount of radioactive fission fragments and transuranic elements very hot and very radioactive. Reactor operators have to manage the heat and radioactivity that remains in the “spent fuel” after it’s taken out of the reactor.  In nuclear power plants, spent nuclear fuel is usually stored underwater in the spent fuel pool on the plant. Plant personnel move the spent fuel underwater from the reactor to the pool. Over time, as the spent fuel is stored in the pool, it becomes cooler as the radioactivity decays away. After several years (> 5 years), decay heat and radioactivity decreases under specified limits so that spent fuel may be reprocessed or interim storaged.

As was written, shielding of the spent fuel pool is ensured by:

  • the design of the spent fuel pool (water and concrete shielding),
  • the design of surrounding working area
  • requirements on water level in the pool,

Spent fuel pools are fitted with stainless steel and aluminum racks that hold the fuel assemblies and are lined with stainless steel to prevent leaking. There are no drains that would allow the water level to drop or the pool to become empty. The plants have a variety of extra water sources and equipment to replenish water that evaporates over time, or in case there is a leak. Plant personnel are also trained and prepared to quickly respond to a problem. The water serves two purposes: it cools the fuel and shields workers at the plant from radioactivity. Although water is neither high density nor high Z material, it is commonly used as gamma shields. Water provides a radiation shielding of fuel assemblies in a spent fuel pool during storage or during transports from and into the reactor core. Although water is a low-density material and low Z material, it is commonly used in nuclear power plants, because these disadvantages can be compensated with increased thickness.

The minimum water level in the fuel storage pool meets primarily the assumptions of iodine decontamination factors following a fuel handling accident. The specified water level shields and minimizes the general area dose when the storage racks are filled to their maximum capacity. The water also provides shielding during the movement of spent fuel. But it also provides with the coolant required for cooling spent fuel.

Spent Fuel – Cherenkov Radiation

Cherenkov Radiation in the reactor core.
Cherenkov Radiation in the reactor core.

The cherenkov radiation is electromagnetic radiation emitted when a charged particle (such as an electron) moves through a dielectric medium faster than the phase velocity of light in that medium.

Cherenkov radiation can be used to detect high-energy charged particles (especially beta particles). In nuclear reactors or in a spent nuclear fuel pool, beta particles (high-energy electrons) are released as the fission fragments decay. The glow is visible also after the chain reaction stops (in the reactor). The cherenkov radiation can characterize the remaining radioactivity of spent nuclear fuel, therefore it can be used for measuring of fuel burnup.

Nuclear and Reactor Physics:
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  2. J. R. Lamarsh, A. J. Baratta, Introduction to Nuclear Engineering, 3d ed., Prentice-Hall, 2001, ISBN: 0-201-82498-1.
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  8. U.S. Department of Energy, Nuclear Physics and Reactor Theory. DOE Fundamentals Handbook, Volume 1 and 2. January 1993.

Advanced Reactor Physics:

  1. K. O. Ott, W. A. Bezella, Introductory Nuclear Reactor Statics, American Nuclear Society, Revised edition (1989), 1989, ISBN: 0-894-48033-2.
  2. K. O. Ott, R. J. Neuhold, Introductory Nuclear Reactor Dynamics, American Nuclear Society, 1985, ISBN: 0-894-48029-4.
  3. D. L. Hetrick, Dynamics of Nuclear Reactors, American Nuclear Society, 1993, ISBN: 0-894-48453-2. 
  4. E. E. Lewis, W. F. Miller, Computational Methods of Neutron Transport, American Nuclear Society, 1993, ISBN: 0-894-48452-4.

See above:

Spent Fuel Pool