Fuel elements in Stavbrønnen. The fuel is stored in closed steel containers in Stavbrønnen Photo: NND Swedish radwaste management company Studsvik has signed an agreement with Norway’s Institute for Energy Technology (IFE) for loading equipment, transport, handling equipment, and for examination and pre-treatment of nuclear fuel from Norway’s research reactor JEEP 1 at Kjeller. The contract is worth NOK138 million ($16m).

The nuclear fuel has been stored for a long time at a dry storage facility in Kjeller (Stavbrønn). Now it needs to be removed and treated ready for future final disposal. Under the agreement Studsvik will transport the fuel to its facilities in Sweden, inspect it and implement initial treatment.

The work is expected to continue for 13 years, starting in 2021. The fuel is planned to be transported to Studsvik in 2022 – 2024 when all necessary permissions are in place. None of the nuclear fuel will remain for final disposal in Sweden.

Joakim Lundström, Head of Studsvik’s Fuel and Materials Technology Business Area said: “It is an important part of decommissioning the Norwegian nuclear research programme, and we look forward to partnering with IFE and Norwegian Nuclear Decommissioning (NND) on this important project."

IFE's President Nils Morten Huseby said this is an historic milestone for IFE and for Norway’s nuclear cleanup. “The agreement means that the work of cleaning up the oldest and most challenging fuel from the pioneer era of nuclear technology has taken a big step forward. It has been IFE and NND's highest priority to find a solution for the management of this waste, and I am therefore very pleased to now have an agreement in place to enable this important work to go ahead."

Nils Bøhmer, sector director Technical at NND, said Norway needs to get the fuel in Stavbrønnen into new and better warehouses as soon as possible, and the agreement means progress towards getting a safe solution at Studsvik. “This project will be an important first step in ensuring good solutions for all Norwegian nuclear fuel,” he noted.

IFE was founded by the Norwegian state in 1948 to develop Norway's nuclear research. Norway was a pioneer in nuclear research and was the sixth country in the world to build a nuclear reactor when the first reactor was put into operation in 1951.

IFE has built and operated a total of four research reactors, three in Kjeller and one in Halden. The Halden reactor was closed in 2018 and the reactor at Kjeller was closed in 2019. The project will have several phases. The first phase will include the design and construction of equipment to lift the fuel out, and preparation of Studsvik's plant in Sweden for receiving it.

The fuel will then be loaded into transport containers for transport to Sweden and treatment at Studsvik's facilities. This will require necessary agreements and permits to be in place to move the fuel and transport it from Norway to Sweden from, among others, the Directorate for Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Swedish authorities.

The fuel in Stavbrønnen is the world's oldest nuclear fuel and amounts to around 3 tonnes of metallically unstable uranium from JEEP 1, which was in operation in the 1950s. The fuel is challenging to handle and requires extra safety solutions.

Photo:  Fuel elements are stored in closed steel containers in Stavbrønnen (Credit: NND)