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Spent fuel removed from UB reactor

The spent radioactive fuel once used to power the University at Buffalo's research nuclear reactor has left the South Campus facility, the university revealed Monday.

Following strict security guidelines set by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, a private contractor removed the fuel from the reactor and trucked it to an Energy Department storage facility in Idaho, where it arrived Sept. 28. The university could not disclose details of the shipment until 10 days after its arrival.

"They just don't want anybody who has ill intent . . . to have that knowledge," said Michael F. Dupre, UB's associate vice president for facilities.

The fuel removal begins efforts to decommission its reactor, which opened in 1960 and has been shut down since 1994.

It had been used to produce short-lived radioisotopes for medical research and other applications. In deciding to close it, university officials cited operating costs and its diminishing value to researchers.

For a decade, UB waited for the Energy Department to find a suitable site to store the spent reactor fuel, which is not weapons-grade.

Last December, UB officials announced the fuel would be removed sometime this year.

Under a veil of secrecy, the contractor, NAC International, worked through the week of Sept. 19 to load the spent fuel into shipping casks and then onto two flat-bed semis for the trip to the Idaho National Laboratory.

Dupre said the appropriate authorities were notified of the removal, and the trucks received a State Police escort to the state's border. He added that even he did not know ahead of time the precise route they would take to Idaho.

NRC officials will conduct a site characterization study to determine precisely what UB needs to do to fully decommission the facility, Dupre said.

UB is considering a variety of options, such as turning it into a hazardous-materials training center.

The full decommissioning effort could take several years and cost as much as $10 million or $12 million, which the university is required to pay, Dupre said.

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