Scientists at the Savannah River National Laboratory (SRNL) are working to identify an unknown material they recently found growing in tanks of spent nuclear fuel rods.
An October report from the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB) — a federal agency responsible for overseeing the U.S.’s nuclear complexes– mentions that researchers found a “white, string-like growth” on the ends of spent fuel racks stored underwater at the Site’s L-Basin.
The facility is owned by the Energy Department but is currently run by the private partnership Savannah River Nuclear Solutions. The L-Basin uses deep pools ranging from 17-30 feet deep to store the spent nuclear fuel assemblies originally used for research purposes.
SRNL spokesperson Angeline French said workers found the substance during “routine surveillance.”
French said officials have no idea what the material is. “What we do know is it looks like cobwebs in appearance,” she told South Carolina Radio Network.
The DNFSB report theorizes the growth may be “biological in nature.”
French said scientists have not noticed any negative effect on the rods or the pool from the mysterious growth.
Researchers at the lab unsuccessfully tried to get a sample of the material for study. “What they learned in getting the initial sample… is that this material disperses very readily when it is disturbed,” French said, “So they were not able to get a large enough sample.”
They hope to try again later in January with a new sampler that will include a pump designed to pull both water and the substance through a flexible tube and discharge it into filters. The excess water would then drain back to the basin. A long pole will be used to position the sample collection funnel in the basin.