Fluor Idaho, the cleanup contractor at the Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory desert site, recently created new storage buckets for spent nuclear fuel.

The innovative bucket design will open up storage capacity at INL’s dry storage facility, which is currently at 93 percent capacity, according to a Fluor news release.

Fluor Idaho engineers, criticality safety and thermal analysis experts, operations personnel and fabricators developed the high-tech buckets over several months, according to Russ Cottam, manager of Fluor Idaho’s spent nuclear fuel projects.

They designed and engineered a four-compartment, stainless-steel bucket that fits inside each fuel canister.

The buckets will store 24 Advanced Test Reactor spent fuel elements per canister at the Irradiated Fuel Storage Facility of the Idaho Nuclear Technology and Engineering Center. Previously, only 16 Advanced Test Reactor spent fuel elements fit in a fuel canister.

The buckets also will allow fuel handlers to stack spent fuel in different configurations, resulting in more of the elements being loaded in the same amount of space, the release said.

“After verifying that four new fuel storage buckets could be adjacently configured inside a fuel canister, the spent nuclear fuel program knew the goal to extend the mission of the dry storage facility was achievable,” said Roger Friesz, Fluor Idaho’s Advanced Reactor Wet-to-Dry Project manager, in the release. “It was certainly a reason to celebrate the hard work of the many who were involved along the way.”

The buckets are being used now, and are “performing extremely well from both a safety and design standpoint,” said Fluor Idaho spokesman Erik Simpson

According to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, there are two acceptable storage methods for spent nuclear fuel: spent fuel pools and dry cask storage.

Spent fuel at the INL site is currently being transferred from pool storage to dry storage to comply with the 1995 Settlement Agreement, an agreement between the state of Idaho, U.S. Navy and Department of Energy, which says nuclear waste can be stored in Idaho for an interim period but must be moved out of the state by 2035.

An upcoming milestone of the Settlement Agreement is to move spent nuclear fuel from pool storage to dry storage by 2023.

Reporter Ryan Suppe can be reached at 208-542-6762. Follow him on Twitter: @salsuppe.