Nuclear Materials Operations

Defense Programs

Waste Management





Nuclear Materials Operations

Setting radiation rates while handling fuel on the tilt table in the L Area Complex
Setting radiation rates while handling fuel on the tilt table in the L Area Complex

Used Nuclear Fuel

The L Area Complex (LAC) is the consolidation point for all aluminum-clad used nuclear fuel from research reactors across the United States and around the world. Off-site fuel has been received at SRS since 1964 as a part of the Atoms for Peace program, under which the United States loaned uranium for research purposes, with the understanding that it would take the materials back again. Now, these receipts are done for nonproliferation purposes as well.

Since 1964, SRS has safely received over 2,290 casks containing over 45,000 Used Nuclear Fuel (UNF) assemblies. This work has been accomplished with no lost time injuries since 1992.

LAC is the home of L Reactor, another of SRS’s five original production reactors. The reactor itself ceased operations in 1988. The area of the building known as the disassembly basin, an underwater storage facility that served as a cooling facility for L Reactor’s fuel during the facility’s operational years, was refurbished to accommodate all the fuel destined for L Area during its operational lifetime.

Working with a Spent Nuclear Fuel assembly
Working with a Used Nuclear Fuel assembly

SRS had fuels in all five reactor disassembly basins, as well as in a test reactor and an additional facility called the Receiving Basin for Off-site Fuels, also known as RBOF, which was built specifically to accommodate foreign and domestic research reactor fuel. For years, these assemblies were sent to RBOF and processed through H Canyon.

In 1996, L Basin’s equipment was reconfigured to safely handle and store UNF from off-site reactors. To avoid the cost of operating multiple facilities, SRS decided in 1998 to consolidate all the stored used fuel at SRS into L Basin. By October 2003, all fuel previously stored in K Basin and RBOF had been moved either to H Canyon for processing or L Basin for storage, leaving L Basin as the only remaining SRS fuel receipt and storage facility.

DOE plans to continue to process most of these fuels through H Canyon.

Special Nuclear Materials

The K Area Complex (KAC) is home to K Reactor, one of SRS’s five original full-scale nuclear production reactors. All five ran for nearly 10 years, and eventually R Reactor – the first to start up – also became the first to shut down in 1964 because the nation no longer needed all five reactors. L Reactor was the next to shut down, but it was restarted when C Reactor shut down due to an irreparable crack in its tank.

K, L and P reactors ran safely until 1988, when they were shut down for routine maintenance. The shutdown became permanent for P and L, and K was identified as the one reactor that would be restarted. It underwent numerous renovations, including seismic and structural upgrades and the construction of a cooling tower.

Monitoring one of the control panels in the K Area conrol room
Monitoring one of the control panels in the K Area conrol room

K Reactor restarted in late 1991, completed a successful demonstration run, then shut down in 1992 when the Cold War ended. It was the United States’ last operating production reactor. In the late 1990s, the reactor building was refurbished to become a nuclear materials receipt and storage facility. All nuclear materials from the Rocky Flats Environmental Technology Site were shipped here, enabling the early closure of RFETS and the saving of billions of taxpayer dollars.

Performing a survey on shipping containers stored at the K Area Complex
Performing a survey on shipping containers stored at the K Area Complex

Today, KAC provides for the handling and interim storage of excess plutonium and other special nuclear materials (SNM) in a safe and environmentally sound manner. It is the only DOE facility that meets all current requirements for safe, secure storage of SNM. Plutonium, uranium and other materials from other DOE sites such as the Hanford Site, the Los Alamos National Laboratory, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Y-12 are being consolidated here.

Uranium is being processed through nearby H Canyon to produce fuel suitable for electricity generation in commercial power reactors. Plutonium is stored inside special welded containers until the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility, now under construction in F Area, is operational. Some of this plutonium will also be processed through H Canyon.


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