January 4, 2018

World-Traveling Fuel Cask Delivers Loads of Data

9,500 Mile Shipment by Truck, Crane, Ship, and Train Delivers Stress and Vibration Measurements Supporting Spent Nuclear Fuel Transport

The cask (white cylinder) on its cradle (yellow) being loaded onto a railcar in Baltimore.

Nuclear power provides nearly 20 percent of the nation’s electricity. Nuclear fuel generates power for about six years, after which the spent nuclear fuel (SNF) rods are moved from the reactor into a pool of cooling water. Once the SNF has cooled sufficiently, it’s ready to be moved to long-term storage.

A permanent SNF disposal facility has yet to be designated. In the meantime, PNNL researchers are part of a team investigating potential risks posed to SNF during normal transport—including measuring the stresses SNF might experience. Supported by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Spent Fuel and Waste Science and Technology(Offsite link) program, they recently completed a major milestone: an international journey to gauge mechanical loads (strain and vibration) on various system components.

Moving Parts

Starting in Spain, a test cask containing simulated SNF rods and assemblies (described in a previous highlight) gathered data over 9,548 miles of travel. During transport by truck, ship, and rail, and transfer by crane from each mode to the next, triaxial accelerometers and strain gauges inside and outside the equipment collected 512 to 10,000 data points every second. Measurements were recorded during the following activities:

  • Nine cask-handling tests at the Equipos Nucleares (ENSA) facility in Maliaño, Spain
  • Driving 395 kilometers by heavy-haul truck on roads in northern Spain
  • Transport to the port of Santander on Spain’s northern coast
  • Transfer to a roll-on/roll-off (Ro/Ro) vehicle, then shipment on a Ro/Ro cargo vessel to Zeebrugge, Belgium
  • Sailing on a cargo ship across the Atlantic to Baltimore, Maryland.
  • Transfer to a railcar for a cross-country trip to the Association of American Railroads’ Transportation Technology Center (TTCI) near Pueblo, Colorado
  • Testing on TTCI's tracks, where measurements could be made under conditions replicating real-world track (e.g., grade crossings) over the same section of track at different speeds
  • Return by railcar as far as St. Louis, Missouri.
An instrumented cask holding simulated nuclear fuel assemblies traveled more than 9,500 miles.

Supporting Safe Shipment

In all, the data acquisition system collected nearly 6 terabytes of data. These results will be used to quantify the loads on surrogate fuel and then to estimate the loads on actual spent fuel. This will deepen our understanding of the risks of damage to SNF during future handling and transport.

The data can also be used to inform Nuclear Regulatory Commission regulations on the transport of SNF, and industry can use the data to better understand the performance of storage and transportation casks.

The international team includes PNNL, Sandia National Laboratories, Equipos Nucleares, S.A. (ENSA) and ENRESA (Empresa Nacional de Residuos Radiactivos, S.A.) of Spain, Transportation Technology Center, Inc., Korea Radioactive Waste Agency, Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute, and KEPCO Nuclear Fuel.

Key Capabilities


About PNNL

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory draws on its distinguishing strengths in chemistry, Earth sciences, biology and data science to advance scientific knowledge and address challenges in sustainable energy and national security. Founded in 1965, PNNL is operated by Battelle for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, which is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States. DOE’s Office of Science is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit https://www.energy.gov/science/. For more information on PNNL, visit PNNL's News Center. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram.

Published: January 4, 2018

PNNL Research Team

Steve Ross, Nicholas Klymyshyn, and Brady Hanson