A surge of shutdowns may be observed in the future for most of the ageing nuclear reactors in the world. These reactors which have supplied power to millions of homes in the past have always faced hurdles in terms of public acceptance. With most nuclear plant owners unwilling to dish out extra millions for renovation of their old plants, gradual shutdowns are imminent. With the Fukishima disaster in Japan involving an old boiling water reactor built in the 70’s, the public sentiment towards the old nuclear plants is likely to deteriorate. The major issue closely linked with decommissioning these old nuclear power plants is the efficient and safe disposal of nuclear waste. Decommissioning costs of nuclear plants are extremely high, going up to nearly a billion dollars for larger plants. Efficient storage of nuclear waste will occupy a majority portion of these costs. Radioactive half life of wastes ranges up to 16 million years while they remain hazardous for much longer. Storage of such nuclear spent fuel (NSF) will ultimately spark the demand for dry storage casks.
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Dry storage casks are generally the most viable method of storing high level nuclear waste which has been cooled down to manageable levels. Cooling of spent fuel requires over a year and sometimes nearly 8 years bringing down to manageable temperatures. Concrete or steel are the major materials used for making these casks, which are able to withstand the harshest of temperature and weather conditions without damage. Not only do inert gases surround and insulate the spent fuel rods in these containers, concrete layers are also present to provide additional radiation shielding to waste handling personnel.
These NSF dry storage casks should be transportable as well, a feature which is incorporated into them during manufacturing. With a majority of the old nuclear power reactors going for decommissioning, thus approaching their wet pool storage limit for NSF, dry cask demand is likely to increase significantly in the future.
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In the European market, Germany and Russia are likely to be strong demand drivers for such dry storage casks. Strong R&D is likely to be required by the manufacturers of these casks to ensure leak free storage of such wastes in nuclear storage repositories. As the requirement for newer and safer repositories increase to dispose of the nuclear wastes, quality improvements in the casks will become necessary. Major emerging markets are likely to be observed in the North American and Asia Pacific regions. Some of the market players involved in the business of manufacturing SNF dry storage casks are Skoda JS A.S., NAC International, Holtec International and Areva among others.