NFS cite 7 years of O.K.'d assessments on BLEU project

By Thomas Wilson

STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   The Blending Low-Enriched Uranium (BLEU) project at Nuclear Fuel Services in Erwin awaits the third and final license amendment application for a project proponents say.
   After the third application is submitted, the company and a litany of individuals and environmental groups demanding a public hearing on the project will face off before an administrative judge with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).
   The BLEU project will convert surplus highly enriched uranium from Cold War defense stockpiles into useful low enriched uranium fuel for TVA nuclear reactors to produce electricity.
   A spokesman for Nuclear Fuel Services, Inc. (NFS) alleges the petitions warning of public health and safety dangers potentially caused by the project contained "numerous inaccuracies."
   "The position of NFS is this has been studied," said Tony Treadway speaking for NFS. "It has been studied by independent organizations that are paid and by law must protect the public. All the indications show that it is a fraction of what the regulatory limit is."
   The petitions requesting the hearing are expected to be heard by Alan Rosenthal, Presiding Officer of the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in Washington, D.C.
   One of the two petitions were filed by a consortium of environmental groups including Friends of the Nolichucky River Valley, the State of Franklin Group of the Sierra Club and Tennessee Environmental Council. The second petition was filed by Kathy Helms-Hughes of Butler.
   "The radiation dose to someone living on NFS property, not 20 miles away or at the bottom of Watauga Lake, would be a fraction of one percent of the annual limit prescribed by the NRC to ensure that the public and the environment is protected," Treadway explained. He also characterized the allegation that airborne radiation could travel 20 miles away to Watauga Lake and directly impact wildlife and public safety as "simply inaccurate."
   Treadway added: "NFS respects the rights of those with concerns regarding the BLEU project to express them. The fact that Ms. Helms-Hughes can bring up such concerns proves that the process is fair. However, we must understand that hundreds of experts in nuclear, environmental, wildlife and industrial safety have reviewed all of these issues and found that the BLEU project will pose no adverse impact to the public or the environment."
   An Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was performed by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for the BLEU project in 1996. The TVA reviewed the EIS and issued its own Record of Decision on the project in 2000, thus validating the EIS' conclusions. In July 2002, the NRC issued an Environmental Assessment (EA) following review by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Tennessee Historical Commission.
   "The entire BLEU project is about 2 milllirims. We think those numbers are actually overstated, for the purpose of the EIS, they take the worst case scenario," Treadway said.
   The first license amendment was a storage facility for enriched material, the Uranyl Nitrate Building (UNB). The second amendment request by NFS involves, in part, the move of the company's previously used downblending process operation from one building into another. The NRC has already ruled that the first license amendment request for the operation of a storage facility would not have an adverse impact to the public or the environment.
   According to NFS calculations, the project will provide electricity for the reactors for up to 15 years and lower the dependence on burning coal for electricity. The electricity to be produced from the new fuel is equivalent to burning 800,000 rail cars of coal, according to NFS estimates.
   "If I were living at NFS, if I lived next to the air emissions stack 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, the amount of radioactivity I would be exposed to is a fraction of one percent of the NRC limit," said Treadway. "That limit is set very, very low."
   NRC regulations allow the public to request a public hearing on the project. A hearing may be granted, however, only if the requester meets specified conditions related to standing and damages. The NRC appointed an administrative law judge to review all filings related to the matter.
   At the NRC's public hearing of NFS's annual Licensee Performance Review on April 9, the agency reported that the company's license amendment applications did not include nuclear criticality safety analyses, fire hazards analysis, and adequate commitments to management measures, according to the review.
   NFS was required to submit a line of credit as part of decommissioning -- or disposal and cleanup of the project -- as part of the amendment process. The total estimated cost for decommissioning the project was $2.945 million. The NRC found that cost reasonable and requested NFS to increase its cost estimate to $3.133 million.