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A new serious problem with stainless steel canisters for nuclear wastes

Schematic of a stainless steel nuclear waste canister, with radioactive particles (purple) trapped inside in glass and the acidic spiral that starts when water, steel, and glass are brought together. Guo et al/Nature Materials

January 30, 2020 - Posted by | Reference, safety, USA, wastes


  1. Heat released by a spent fuel assembly
    A uranium oxide (UOX) fuel assembly weighs approximately 500 kg. Five years after being unloaded from the reactor, it emits heat equivalent to around a dozen 100 watt light bulbs. This heat release steadily tails off, falling to 85 watts after 300 years. Spent fuel assemblies must be cooled prior to disposal, either in a pool or in dry silos.

    A dozen 100 watt light bulbs is quite a bit of heat actually in an 8 foot by 5 foot nuclear waste canister.

    There is a full spectrum of alpha emitters, beta emitters, and gamma emitters from the many radionuclides present in high level, nuclear waste canisters.
    The radioactive material emits radiation that interacts with the canister-case materials and other materirials in the cask, to create gas. Any water present will generate hydrogen gas, from radiation attacking water molecules.

    There are the corrosion and embrittling aspects of the radiation interaction, with the steel shells that contain the waste.

    Nuclear waste storage, is a fantasy world of convenient omission

    Comment by kw | January 30, 2020 | Reply

    • kw – the heat present is not an issue for the stainless canister. Hydrogen gas might well be, if it formed in substantial quantities. However, 1) there is little or no water in the new canister when it is sealed, and 2) there is dry air in the canister, and the oxygen from that and from the radiolysis (2.H2O 2.H2 + O2) would recombine with the hydrogen fast enough to prevent it from being available to cause embrittlement. So I don’t see the “convenient omission” you refer to.

      Comment by js | February 6, 2020 | Reply

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