Uranium shipments will be 'well-protected'

By Kathy Helms-Hughes
STAR STAFF

   Shipments of 33 metric tons of high-enriched uranium to Nuclear Fuel Services Inc. in Erwin to be blended into reactor fuel for Tennessee Valley Authority will be "well-protected," according to Steven Wyatt of the Department of Energy in Oak Ridge.
   "Because of the strategic nuclear material, it has to be protected, but we obviously can't discuss the measures that are in place to protect that material, nor would we discuss actual schedules once the shipments begin," he said.
   The shipments, which are scheduled to begin in 2003, will travel to Savannah River primarily from Johnson City to Asheville, N.C. via I-81 and I-40. From there, they are to be shipped to Columbia, S.C. via I-26 and on to Savannah River in Aiken, S.C. via I-20.
   Last Tuesday, about half of NFS's security personnel and its contract security personnel were given police powers during a swearing-in ceremony conducted by Criminal Court Judge Robert Cupp. The authority was granted last year by the Tennessee General Assembly prior to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
   Jerry Stout, NFS Safeguards and Security director, said the new authority "gives these officers the necessary authority to conduct security-related investigations and to pursue intruders beyond the boundaries of our plant site."
   Paul Schutt, NFS chairman of the board, said giving the security guards police authority "is a new tool to help protect an important national asset."
   Under the agreement between the Department of Energy and TVA:
   * DOE will provide TVA with natural uranium in the form of uranium hexafluoride (UF6) to be used as blendstock;
   * TVA will provide natural uranium oxide (U03) for downblending 33 metric tons of highly enriched uranium;
   * TVA's contractor will convert 225 metric tons of natural uranium powder into uranyl nitrate solution and ship the solution to Savannah River Site for downblending high-enriched uranium;
   * DOE will downblend approximately 16 metric tons of HEU at Savannah River Site into low-enriched uranyl nitrate solution containing 233 metric tons of uranium;
   * TVA's contractor will ship the low-enriched uranyl nitration solution from Savannah River to NFS in Erwin via interstate. The shipments will be made in 230-gallon shipping containers licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The uranyl nitrate solution shipping will occur from 2003 to 2007 and will require about 300 shipments with a maximum of 70 per year;
   * DOE will ship approximately 17 metric tons of high-enriched uranium to NFS for downblending into low-enriched uranyl nitrate solution containing 228 metric tons of uranium. The uranyl nitrate solution produced at NFS will be sent to Savannah River in approximately 50 shipments at a maximum of 15 per year.
   * TVA's contractor will convert all of the low-enriched uranyl nitrate solution to uranium oxide powder containing 461 metric tons of uranium at NFS;
   * TVA's contractor will ship the uranium oxide powder to Richland, Wash., where it will be converted to pellets and loaded into fuel rods to power TVA's reactors. The first fuel covered by the contracts is expected to be loaded during spring 2005. The last reload is expected to occur in 2015.
   NFS performed a conversion on test quantities of material for TVA in 1998 and TVA conducted a successful limited demonstration from Spring 1999 through Fall 2000 at Sequoyah Nuclear Plant using fuel assemblies derived from off-spec HEU. Results of the tests indicated the fuel performed normally.