What is Spent Nuclear Fuel (SNF)?

Spent nuclear fuel, occasionally referred to as used nuclear fuel, is defined as the nuclear fuel that has been irradiated in a nuclear reactor (generally at a nuclear power plant). It is no longer useful in sustaining a nuclear reaction in an ordinary thermal reactor and depending on its point along the nuclear fuel cycle, it may have substantially different isotopic constituents.

Management of SNF

Managing the spent fuel generated from nuclear power plants until its disposal is a vital step of the nuclear fuel cycle and includes a number of back-end tasks. While one third of the spent fuel generated globally is reprocessed, most of it is stored until a decision is taken on the end-point strategy, which includes processing or disposal.

The nuclear fuel cycle terminates with the safe, secure, and sustainable management of the spent fuel, which consists of storage after withdrawal from the core of the nuclear power plant. It is followed by either its processing/recycling or final disposal. Nuclear fuel cycles that are safe, secure, proliferation resistant, and economically efficient minimizes waste generation and environmental impacts globally and contributes to the sustainability of nuclear energy.

The challenges are to spot and address relevant technological problems and to maintain certain flexibility in the management of spent nuclear fuel to accommodate the biggest range of potential options for the future.

Wet Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel

Generally, pools are utilized to store and maintain spent nuclear fuel assemblies for cooling, after the removal from reactors. After three to five years stored in the pools, spent fuel can be reprocessed or sent to a final disposition in a geological repository and handled as radioactive waste or sent to another site waiting for future solution. Spent fuel can be stored in dry or wet installations, depending on the method adopted by the nuclear plant. If this storage are exclusively wet at the installation decommissioning in the future, another solution for storage needs to be found.

Dry Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel

After a preliminary cooling, the spent fuel assemblies can be taken out from the pool and sent to dry hardened storage installations. This kind of storage does not require complex radiation monitoring and it is safer as compared to wet storage. Dry hardened casks use metal or both metal and concrete for radiation shielding and they are safe, especially during an earthquake.

How Does Dry Storage Works?

Dry storage has been successfully adopted worldwide and is different from wet storage, as this process requires the utilization of an inert or a slightly reactive gas inside the cylinder in which the SNF is stored to avoid the fuel oxidation. These cylinders offer a leak-tight containment of the spent nuclear fuel. The cylinder is surrounded by additional metal or concrete, which offer the radiation shielding acting similar to water in the wet storage. Heat cooling is executed by natural air convection. Prior to the transference for dry storage, SNF is placed in pools for some years to perform initial cooling and heat decay.

Explaining Dry Storage Casks

Usually casks are made from metal, concrete, or a combination of both. Metallic casks utilize steel, cast iron, lead, and cooper. Concrete casks utilize different formulations of sand, gravel, cement, water, and iron for reinforcing. They are placed in robust and above the ground concrete or steel structures and are not fixed on the floor. This is the reason that the transport of the SNF from the reactor for storage or for another installation is easier as compared to other types of dry storage.

Types of SNF Dry Storage Casks

  • Metallic Casks

Metallic casks are generally made from cast steel with one or two lids that are bolted or welded at the cask body. The steel cask offers a leak-tight containment of the spent fuel and offers shielding against gamma radiation.

  • Concrete Casks

Concrete casks have the same inner disposition as metallic casks. SNF are distributed in metallic baskets inserted inside steel cylinders and then are surrounded by concrete. The concrete cask offers neutrons and gamma radiation shielding. Heat is transferred through ducts, located at the cask wall, connecting the steel cylinders with external environment.

Global Market Scenario for Spent Nuclear Fuel Dry Storage Cask

According to a detailed report published by Growth Market Reports (GMR), the global spent nuclear fuel dry storage cask market was valued at USD 1,687.5 million in 2019 and is projected to reach USD 2,739.6 million by 2027, expanding at a CAGR of 6.9% during the forecast period, 2020-2027. In terms of volume, the market is anticipated to expand at 6.4% during the forecast period.

Market Trends and Dynamics

The market is driven by factors such as growing application of nuclear technology, rising need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, surging fossil fuel prices, and scarcity of energy sources. However, the limitations of dry storage casks and difficulty of financing nuclear power projects are expected to restrain the development of the nuclear power industry are key restraints of this market. Following are certain trends of the market:

  • Development of small-scale nuclear reactors worldwide and growing investment in nuclear power plants are boosting the growth of the market. Recent market trends also consist of permanent storage facilities and rising preference for dry storage casks over wet storage casks.
  • The demand for dry cask storage facilities for SNF is rising. Many countries are investing in R&D for the permanent storage of nuclear wastes. Finland and Sweden are projected to witness subversive repositories for radioactive waste to be completed in the coming years. Permanent storage facilities are available in almost every country to improve its nuclear capacity.
  • Rising environmental problems and increasing demand for power have augmented the demand for nuclear power generation and it has become one of the most dependable options to cater the requirements for electricity and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Nuclear power generation is a clean form of energy technology that can meet the rising demand for electricity efficiently. Nonetheless, a nuclear power plant can generate a lot of radioactive waste that need to be disposed properly. This, in turn, is projected to generate lucrative opportunities for the market growth.

Regional Outlook

In terms of regions, the market has been segmented into North America, Europe, Asia Pacific, Latin America, and Middle East & Africa. North America is a promising region for the market. It accounted for a substantial share of the market in 2020. The market in the region is anticipated to expand at an impressive CAGR during the forecast period. The demand for spent nuclear fuel dry storage cask is projected to rise due to the expansion of existing nuclear power plants and high investments in the new nuclear power plant during the forecast period. The market in Asia Pacific is anticipated to expand at a CAGR due to the rise in energy consumption from nuclear power plants and ongoing developments and investments in the region.

Competitive Landscape & Developments

Prominent players in the market include EnergySolutions, Holtec International, SKODA JS a.s., GNS Gesellschaft fur, Nuklear-Service GmbH, and Hitachi Zosen Corporation.
The prominent players in the market are utilizing strategies such as product launches, mergers & acquisitions, and contracts & collaborations. These strategies are expected to deliver effective goods and high-performance goods, supporting market laws, and better client satisfaction.

  • In December 2019, Orano declared that it has signed a contract worth euros 40 million with ECP, a subsidiary of Rosatom. The contract allowed Orano to receive a project for the depleted uranium plant, which is located in Zelenogorsk, Russia.
  • In December 2017, EnergySolutions acquired PHTS Logistics Inc., which is located in Ontario, Canada. PHTS Logistics Inc. is one of the leaders in truckload logistics services in Canada.
  • In August 2019, Holtec Internationals subsidiaries completed the acquisition of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station, which is located in Massachusetts, the US.