NRC: NFS project would increase pollutants but pose no impact

By Kathy Helms-Hughes

   The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has issued an environmental assessment in conjunction with Nuclear Fuel Services Inc.'s plans to turn 33 metric tons of bomb grade uranium into fuel for Tennessee Valley Authority's reactors at Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant in Athens, Ala.
   The environmental assessment indicates that the amount of uranium and thorium NFS now sends up its stacks at the Erwin facility will increase about four or five times current levels. The amount of plutonium and americium now vented also will increase.
   The NRC found, however, that the added emissions of radionuclides and non-radiological contaminants to air, water and soil pose no significant impact to human health or the environment and do not warrant the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement.
   The public has 30 days from the July 9 publication of the notice in the Federal Register to request a hearing on the license amendment. The person requesting a hearing must describe in detail their interest in the proceeding, how that interest may be affected by the results of the proceeding, including why they should be permitted a hearing, and other details specified in the notice.
   According to the NRC, hydrogen and nitrogen oxide emissions are expected to nearly double with the addition of the proposed Blended Low-Enriched Uranium Complex, or BLEU Complex. This places NFS in a position to exceed the amount of effluents it is licensed to emit under its current air pollution permit, and has prompted the company to seek a modification of its permit for the main stack. The modified permit had not been issued at the time of the environmental assessment.
   NFS plans to construct and operate three buildings as part of the BLEU Project. Those include an Oxide Conversion Building, Effluent Processing Building, and relocation of downblending operations within the NFS protected area in a BLEU Preparation Facility.
   The company will need NRC approval for three amendments to its Special Nuclear Material license in order to carry out the project.
   According to NRC, substantial increases for uranium, thorium and plutonium, attributable to the BLEU Preparation Facility, will be sent to NFS's Waste Water Treatment Facility and discharged to the Nolichucky River.
   Stormwater runoff from the BLEU Complex will be independent of runoff from the NFS protected area and will be regulated under a separate stormwater discharge permit, which also had not been issued at the time of the report.
   The primary path for stormwater runoff will be northwest across the BLEU Complex and into culverts that empty into Martin Creek. Uranium, thorium, and plutonium isotopes, and Technetium-99 will be discharged to the sewer.
   NFS will discharge an estimated 6,300 gallons per day of water to the sewer containing nonradiological constituents such as arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury, ammonia nitrate, fluoride, chloride, selenium, silver and pH. Estimates do not include domestic wastewater volume, estimated at a combined total of 10,000 gallons per day.
   About 6 percent of the proposed 4.5 acre BLEU Complex construction site contains soil with radionuclide concentrations above background levels, or those naturally occurring. During construction of the BLEU Complex, NFS will control the contaminated dust by "wet suppression," or saturating it with water, to ensure that workers do not receive excess exposures.
   Operation of the BLEU Project is expected to produce radioactive, mixed waste, nonradioactive hazardous and nonradioactive nonhazardous wastes, according to NRC.
   According to NRC, primary hazards associated with operation of the project facilities include: spill of chemical or radioactive material in the building; a leak in a storage tank or supply piping; release of chemical and/or radioactive effluents due to a malfunction; an upset in the control process leading to release of hazardous or explosive compounds such as hydrogen. The loss of control could include release of radioactive materials and nuclear criticality.
   The BLEU Project is part of a Department of Energy program to reduce stockpiles of surplus high-enriched uranium through reuse of low-enriched uranium, thus converting weapons grade material to a form unsuitable for nuclear weapons and addressing a nuclear proliferation concern.
   Because the BLEU Project supports the production of nuclear generated electric power for public use, NFS will have to comply with a more stringent public dose constraint. To address the change, NFS has submitted revised dose assessment methods for NRC review.
   NFS is located about 20 miles southwest of Johnson City, 50 miles southwest of Asheville, N.C., and 0.5 miles southwest of Erwin City Limits, and lies on the southeastern edge of the Nolichucky River, the source of drinking water for the Town of Jonesborough and the city of Greeneville.
   Counties within the NFS "Region of Influence," according to the NRC, include: Carter, Sullivan, Unicoi and Washington. NFS employs 52 residents from Carter County; 44 from Sullivan; 252 from Unicoi, and 264 from Washington County.