An engineered system for dry storage of aluminum-clad foreign and domestic research reactor spent fuel owned by the United States Department of Energy is being considered to store the fuel up to a nominal period of 40 years prior to ultimate disposition. Scientifically-based criteria for environmental limits to drying and storing the fuels for this system are being developed to avoid excessive degradation in sealed and non-sealed (open to air) dry storage systems. These limits are based on consideration of degradation modes that can cause loss of net section of the cladding, embrittlement of the cladding, distortion of the fuel, or release of fuel and fission products from the fuel/clad system. Potential degradation mechanisms include corrosion mechanisms from exposure to air and/or sources of humidity, hydrogen blistering of the aluminum cladding, distortion of the fuel due to creep, and interdiffusion of the fuel and fission products with the cladding.
The aluminum-clad research reactor fuels are predominantly highly-enriched aluminumuranium alloy fuel which is clad with aluminum alloys similar to 1100, 5052, and 6061 aluminum. In the absence of corrodant species, degradation due to creep and diffusion mechanisms limit the maximum fuel storage temperature to 200°C. The results of laboratoryscale corrosion tests indicate that this fuel could be stored under air up to 200°C at low relative humidity levels (< 20%) to limit corrosion of the cladding and fuel (exposed to the storage environment through assumed pre-existing pits in the cladding). Excessive degradation of fuels with uranium metal up to 200°C can be avoided if the fuel is sufficiently dried and contained in a sealed system; open storage can be achieved if the temperature is controlled to avoid excessive corrosion even in dry air.