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Example of a dry cask storage area.
Image courtesy of the NRC.


Dry cask storage is a method of storing high-level radioactive waste, such as spent nuclear fuel that has already been cooled in the spent fuel pool for at least one year.The fuel is surrounded by inert gas inside a large container. These casks are typically steel cylinders that are either welded or bolt closed. Ideally, the steel cylinder provides leak-tight containment of the spent fuel. Each cylinder is surrounded by additional steel, concrete, or other material to provide radiation shielding to workers and members of the public. Some of the cask designs can be used for both storage and transportation.

There are various dry storage cask system designs. With some designs, the steel cylinders containing the fuel are placed vertically in a concrete vault; other designs orient the cylinders horizontally. The concrete vaults provide the radiation shielding. Other cask designs orient the steel cylinder vertically on a concrete pad at a dry cask storage site and use both metal and concrete outer cylinders for radiation shielding.

The containers are also known as castor containers, which is an acronym for "cask for storage and transport of radioactive material." Castor is a tradename of the GNS Gesellschaft für Nuklear-Service mbH (company for nuclear services).

History

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the need for alternative storage began to grow when pools at many nuclear reactors began to fill up with stored spent fuel. As there was not a national storage facility in operation (Yucca Mountainmarker was, and remains, embroiled in controversy), utilities began looking at options for storing spent fuel. Dry cask storage was one of the most practical options for temporary storage.

The first dry storage installation was licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 1986 at the Surry Nuclear Power Plantmarker in Virginiamarker. Spent fuel is currently stored in dry cask systems at a growing number of power plant sites, and at an interim facility located at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratorymarker near Idaho Falls, Idahomarker. It is estimated that by the late 2010s to 2020s, all of the nuclear power plants in the United Statesmarker will be out of room in their spent fuel pools, most likely requiring the use of temporary storage of some kind. Yucca Mountain was expected to open in 2017. However, the Obama administration announced in February 2009 they would be scrapping the project.

In Canada, above-ground dry storage has been used for a number of years. Ontario Power Generation is in the process of constructing a Dry Storage Cask storage facility on its Darlington site, which will be similar in many respects to existing facilities at Pickering Nuclear Generating Stationmarker and Bruce Nuclear Generating Stationmarker. NB Power's Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Stationmarker and Hydro-Québec's Gentilly Nuclear Generating Stationmarker also both operate dry storage facilities.

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