NFS gets first uranium shipments for BLEU Project

From Staff Reports
The first shipment of low-enriched uranium from Savannah River Site in Aiken, S.C., rolled into the Nuclear Fuel Services Inc. plant in Erwin last week, beginning a new era of converting "weapons into plowshares," according to the Department of Energy.
The shipment is a major milestone in the High Enriched Uranium (HEU) Blend Down Program, which takes a weapons-usable form of uranium and blends it with natural uranium to make Low Enriched Uranium (LEU), which cannot be used in weapons. The LEU is shipped to NFS, which will prepare it for fabrication into a fuel for use in Tennessee Valley Authority's Browns Ferry reactors, according to DOE.
TVA plans to bring Browns Ferry Unit 1 back on line, at an estimated cost of $1.8 billion, and to increase power generation at all three units. The fuel will not be used at TVA's Watts Bar and Sequoyah reactors, where TVA's commercial reactors will be used to generate tritium for military purposes.
"Today marks a big step in our nation's nonproliferation efforts," Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham said of the first shipment. "We have taken material that was left over from the Cold War and turned it into something that is unattractive for use in weapons. Not only that, but we've turned it into a material that has an important peacetime use, producing electricity."
At the end of the Cold War, when Savannah River Site ended production of special nuclear materials, more than 33 metric tons of high enriched uranium were left over in various stages of the nuclear production cycle. That material, which includes irradiated and unirradiated fuel, solutions and other forms, was included in the 174 metric tons of uranium nationwide, which President Bill Clinton, in 1994, declared as surplus to the nation's security needs.
On July 8, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved the first of three license amendments for NFS to recycle the bomb material into commercial fuel for TVA, a process dubbed the Blended Low-Enriched Uranium (BLEU) Project. Approval of the first license amendment cleared the way for shipments from Savannah River Site to NFS.
The NRC now is reviewing the second license amendment submitted by NFS. A third license amendment was to have been submitted by NFS to the NRC in June, however, NFS says that has now been delayed until October.
The Office of Fissile Material Disposition (now part of the National Nuclear Security Administration) was formed to determine a final disposition path that would meet nuclear nonproliferation goals for these materials. In 1997, DOE signed a Memorandum of Understanding with TVA, which then entered into agreements with two additional companies, NFS and French nuclear giant Framatome ANP, to take part in the conversion to commercial nuclear fuel.
At SRS, fuel assemblies are taken apart and the high-enriched uranium is packaged into bundles in K Area. The HEU is then moved to the site's H Area, where it is processed to remove impurities that would make it unusable as a fuel. The purified HEU is then blended with natural uranium supplied by TVA, which was purchased by TVA from Cameco of Canada.
The blended material is then loaded into shipping containers and the resulting LEU shipped to NFS, where it will be converted to an oxide form before being fabricated into fuel assemblies, which will be used in TVA's Browns Ferry nuclear plant. The blending down and shipping of LEU will continue through 2007.
Another portion of the site's HEU, consisting of ingots formed from unirradiated assemblies in the 1990s, is being blended down by NFS, according to DOE.