NRC grants 10-day extension on public response

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com
ERWIN -- The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory has granted a 10-day extension for public response to a petitioner requesting a 60-day public response period to a license amendment request submitted to NRC by Nuclear Fuel Services Inc. in October.
In her motion filed Dec. 31, 2003, Kathy Helms-Hughes requested an extension of time of 60 days for the public to request a hearing concerning a request from NFS to amend its license to authorize certain operations at its facility related to the Blended Low-Enriched Uranium (BLEU) project.
On Oct. 23, 2003, NFS filed a request for an amendment to its Special Nuclear Materials License, No. SNM-124, to authorize processing operations in the Oxide Conversion Building and the Effluent Processing Building. This request is the third of three license amendment requests planned to support operations associated with downblending and conversion of high-enriched uranium material to low-enriched oxides. NRC did not post the amendment on the Federal Register until Dec. 24, 2003.
The 30-day public response period would have ended Jan. 23. NRC cites an 8-day extension would have the deadline fall on Saturday, Jan. 31, thus, the deadline would be extended to Monday, Feb. 2, 2004, in a ruling issued Friday.
Helms-Hughes argued in her Dec. 31 filing to NRC that the posting of the response coincided too closely with the Christmas and New Year's holiday. The posting on the Federal Register essentially created an inappropriate response period for the public given the holiday season and the duration of time between the license submission and the Federal Register notice by NRC, the petition indicated.
In a response by Marian L. Zobler, counsel for NRC Staff, issued Jan. 13, stated the motion Helms-Hughes to extend the public response period by 60 days was "excessive." Zobler states that under the commission's regulations under Title 10 the Code of Federal Regulations, any request for a hearing must be filed within 30 days of the date of the publication in the Federal Register of a notice referring or relating to an application. Zobler states in her motion NRC staff would not oppose a short extension of 10 days. Zobler stated that Helms-Hughes failed to explain why she could not review the relevant documents in a timely fashion, given the "modest pleading burden" of a subpart review.
The BLEU Project involves the blending down of 33 metric tons of highly enriched, bomb-grade uranium from Cold War defense stockpiles into low-enriched uranium fuel for commercial nuclear power reactors belonging to the Tennessee Valley Authority. NFS is requesting the third amendment to authorize operations that will convert liquid uranyl nitrate solutions into solid uranium oxide powder as part of the process for downblending and conversion of high-enriched uranium materials into low-enriched uranium oxide. The uranium dioxide powder would be shipped to international energy conglomerate Framatome ANP Inc., for conversion to commercial reactor fuel to be used in the TVA nuclear power reactors. Presiding Judge Alan S. Rosenthal with the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board Panel for the NRC in Washington, D.C., was expected to render a decision on the petitioners' standing after NFS submitted its third license amendment request. The BLEU Project's major public sector players include TVA and the U.S. Department of Energy.
Helms-Hughes is one of two petitioners who have filed petitions seeking a public hearing on the BLEU Project at the NFS site in Erwin. A consortium of environmental groups including Friends of the Nolichucky River Valley, the State of Franklin Group of the Sierra Club, Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, and Tennessee Environmental Council along have filed petitions with the NRC seeking standing to have a public hearing regarding the BLEU Project. Fifteen Northeast Tennessee citizens represented by a Greeneville attorney have also filed separate petitions. Attorneys for NFS have asked the NRC to deny petitioners' requests for a hearing, stating that none of them had demonstrated "standing" or "injury in fact."
Presiding Judge Alan S. Rosenthal with the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board Panel for the NRC in Washington, D.C., was expected to render a decision on the petitioners' standing after NFS submitted its third license amendment request.
A NFS representative also confirmed last week that the company is currently in negotiations with certain property owners who have approached NFS about purchasing their property. NFS spokesman Tony Treadway confirmed last week that the company is negotiating to purchase property from landowners. He declined to elaborate on details.
Framatome ANP has leased a 5.16-acre tract on the NFS-owned property adjacent to Clinchfield Railroad. In November of 1997, NFS purchased three lots from two property owners in the Skyview Subdivision on Berkshire Drive adjacent to the company's property on Banner Hill Road.