The problem? Although the United States has a designated disposal site, a permanent disposal pathway for this spent fuel at that designated site is uncertain, and the process of establishing any new site is expected to take decades.
In response, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) are developing a data and analysis tool—the Used Nuclear Fuel-Storage, Transportation & Disposal Analysis Resource and Data System (UNF-ST&DARDS)—to accurately account for the changing characteristics of the spent nuclear fuel over time.
During a recent summer, Olaseni Adeniji, an undergraduate computer science and mathematics major at the University of the District of Columbia, had the opportunity to participate in these research efforts through the Nuclear Engineering Science Laboratory Synthesis (NESLS) internship program at ORNL.
The NESLS program offers research opportunities in nuclear science for undergraduate and graduate students.
Under the guidance of his mentor, L. Paul Miller, a researcher within the Reactor and Nuclear Systems Division, Adeniji used UNF-ST&DARDS to create data visualizations of the canisters that store spent nuclear fuel. These visualizations showed, in part, the thermal evolution of the fuel in the canisters, or their estimated change in temperature over time.
UNF-ST&DARDS will eventually aid in the transportation of the canisters, Adeniji noted. “A broader picture of how UNF-ST&DARDS helps with moving the canisters is by telling us which canisters storing used nuclear fuel are ready to be moved, the canisters that need to be repacked, and the canisters that need more analyses, as opposed to just repacking all the canisters when the time of disposal arrives, which thereby helps us save billions of dollars,” Adeniji said.
Through the NESLS internship, Adeniji honed his programming skills, learned the ins and outs of collaborating on scientific research and gained confidence as a public speaker.
A highlight for Adeniji was his participation in the second annual Ignite-Off competition between research participants at ORNL and Argonne National Laboratory. In this competition, Adeniji and other contestants each delivered a five-minute summary of their research in an Ignite talk format, where the presentation slides advance every 15 seconds.
“This presentation was a significant highlight because the process of getting ready for this revealed a lot about myself to me, such as how I grasp information, areas of my public speaking I have to improve and more,” Adeniji said.
Outside the lab, Adeniji enjoyed playing soccer with fellow interns, exploring the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and canoeing at Knoxville’s Ijams Nature Center, among other activities.
“The opportunity to intern at a national laboratory is an experience that has shown me a lot and benefited me tremendously,” Adeniji said. “ORNL is an excellent place to conduct research, the scientists are ever-willing to help interns learn, and the campus itself is fantastic.”
After earning his bachelor’s degree at the University of the District of Columbia, Adeniji intends to continue his education in graduate school. “Participating in this opportunity has definitely inspired me to get an additional degree,” he said.
The NESLS program at ORNL is administered by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) for the U.S. Department of Energy.