Leah SpradleyReliability and Risk Engineering and Management IGERT
Vanderbilt UniversityNashville, TN
EDUCATION: PhD Candidate, May 2008, Environmental Management, Vanderbilt University; B.S. Systems and Information Engineering, University of Virginia, May 2003; RESEARCH INTERESTS: If nuclear energy is to be a major source of carbon-free, base-load electricity energy to our society, how can spent nuclear fuel be managed in a sustainable and environmentally responsible manner? What are the current choices that the U.S. government has in solving the nuclear waste problem? In making policy decisions, our government must walk the ever so difficult tight-rope of balancing risk tradeoffs in health and safety, security, politics, economics, and ethics. For several decades, the federal government has pursued the use of a geologic repository at Yucca Mountain, NV, for disposal of the nation’s high-level nuclear waste. While much attention has been devoted to addressing the potential long-term risk of the repository post-closure, it is becoming clear that additional effort is needed to address emerging pre-closure matters if the project is to succeed.
My PhD research consists of the design and application of an integrated model to explore the impact of various components of waste management system design and pre-closure operations on system performance of Yucca Mountain. This research seeks to compare relative performance of the pre-closure waste management system under various design and operational approaches, focusing on the following questions: What is the relationship between the thermal characteristics of the waste packages and various design and operating conditions? Which scenarios cause the system to be infeasible, e.g., excessive delays in waste acceptance, increased aging requirements, etc.? Which scenarios result in improved operational performance, e.g., more efficient packaging and fewer handlings of the spent fuel over time?
Completion of my current research will provide me with experience to pursue a longer-term research interest of developing comprehensive life-cycle analyses of energy systems to guide policy decisions. One such system is the nuclear fuel cycle - a system made up of heterogeneous actors with varying levels of resource use, demands, and constraints. The agents of this system have multiple and competing objectives. Characterization of such a system requires the incorporation of a broad range of uncertain environmental, technological, social, and economical variables. I would like to apply analytical tools toward solving the long-term used nuclear fuel management requirement of the current (and most likely expanded) U.S. nuclear power production. For example: Where does fuel recycling, consolidated interim storage and hardened on-site storage play a role in the strategy? What are the compared risks and benefits of pursuing alternative recycling technologies (e.g., Uranium Extraction Plus (UREX+), Plutonium Extraction (PUREX) or Global Actinide Extraction (GANEX))? Can the US leverage its existing reactor infrastructure to improve the economics and efficiency of reprocessing through utilizing thermal recycling via Combined Non-Fertile and UO2 (CONFU) and Mixed Oxide (MOX) fuel assemblies? I would like to develop holistic multi-stakeholder assessments to identify the appropriate policy responses to these continuing issues (e.g. siting storage and disposal locations) as well as emerging challenges (e.g. changes in foreign policy and relations).
I enjoy anything outdoors - camping, hiking, running, and tennis. Living in Nashville, I have caught the music bug and love going to see local live music at small venues around town.
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