NRC to assess impacts from NFS/TVA uranium project

By Kathy Helms-Hughes

   The Nuclear Regulatory Commission published notice Monday in the Federal Register of its intent to prepare an Environmental Assessment regarding the blend-down of 33 metric tons of bomb-grade uranium into low-enriched reactor fuel at Nuclear Fuel Services Inc. of Erwin.
   The fuel would be used to power reactors at Tennessee Valley Authority's Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant in Alabama.
   The NRC assessment will conclude whether there is need for a full Environmental Impact Statement or whether environmental impacts would not be significant, thus eliminating the need for the EIS.
   NFS plans to request three amendments to its Special Nuclear Material License to authorize activities associated with the blend-down of surplus uranium from the Department of Energy.
   TVA and DOE signed a memorandum of understanding in 1997 to investigate commercial use of "off-spec" highly enriched uranium, after which TVA requested proposals in 1998 from commercial fuel vendors to provide services.
   A consortium made up of Framatome-Cogema Fuels of Lynchburg, Va., Siemens Power Corp. of Richland, Wash., and NFS submitted the best proposal. Framatome and Siemens later merged into Framatome ANP and TVA then negotiated with DOE and the Framatome ANP/NFS consortium to complete the project.
   On Feb. 14, 2001, TVA published notice that it was adopting the Final Environmental Impact Statement on the "Disposition of Surplus Highly Enriched Uranium" prepared by DOE and released in June 1996. TVA was not a party to that statement and in February 2001, recirculated it to agencies and persons who had provided original comments to DOE.
   A Record of Decision on TVA's findings concluded there would be no adverse environmental impact from downblending the weapons-grade uranium at NFS. However, the NRC has determined that additional environmental review of new storage and processing facilities at NFS is necessary before license amendments can be issued.
   The 33 metric-ton surplus will have to be blended with about 460 metric tons of natural uranium to bring it down to around 4 percent enrichment before it can be used as reactor fuel.
   TVA plans to burn the blended fuel at Browns Ferry and recently sought public comment on a proposal to extend the operating life of Browns Ferry Units 2 and 3 and, possibly restarting Unit 1, which has not operated since it was severely damaged by fire in the late 1970s. Renewal of the licenses would permit TVA to continue operating the units 20 years past their current 40-year life expectancy. TVA also is considering increasing power output at Unit 1 by up to 20 percent.
   NFS has requested authorization to store low-enriched uranyl nitrate solution in a new onsite tank storage facility and is expected to request authorization to perform dissolution of highly-enriched uranium/aluminum alloy and uranium metal and downblending of that solution into low-enriched uranyl nitrate solution in an amendment application to be submitted in July.
   NFS also is expected to submit a third amendment application in January 2003, authorizing it to perform conversion of the low-enriched uranyl nitrate solution into uranium dioxide powder. Shipment of uranium product associated with the process will be primarily via Interstates 81 and 40.
   The NRC is preparing one Environmental Assessment to address the environmental impacts of all three license amendments proposed by NFS. Copies of the documents are available from the NRC Web site at (the Public Electronic Reading Room).