The US Department of Energy’s (DoE’s) Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management (OCRWM) has instructed its managing contractor to devise a plan to operate the Yucca Mountain repository as a primarily ‘clean’ or non-contaminated facility.

The direction for the change in design, outlined in a letter to Bechtel SAIC, will see most spent nuclear fuel sent to the repository in a standardised canister that would not require repetitive handling of fuel prior to disposal, the DoE said.

Previous plans called for shipping spent fuel assemblies in various types of canisters to the repository where workers would handle 70,000 tonnes of spent fuel up to four separate times per fuel assembly.

The improved design is intended to simplify fuel handling and the construction of the repository, while easing complexities of Yucca Mountain’s post-construction operations.

Switching to a clean facility frees the project from having to construct several spent fuel handling facilities and reduces the potential hazards caused by the oxidation of bare spent nuclear fuel during handling.

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