Framatome foray in BLEU Project

By Thomas Wilson
The company which will receive downblended weapons-grade uranium from the Nuclear Fuel Services Inc. site in Erwin is preparing for their role in the Blended Low-Enriched Uranium (BLEU) project.
NFS has submitted two of three amendment applications for its Special Nuclear Materials License SNM-124 in connection with the BLEU Project. Officials with Framatome Advanced Nuclear Power (ANP) expect to submit their own SNM next month to pave the way to begin receiving downblended uranium product from NFS late next year.
"The total use of the commercial industry is more than the material is available," said Bob Link, site manager for Framatome's Richland site. "We do know there is additional material that can be used for this type of commercial use."
The BLEU Project will convert surplus highly enriched uranium from Cold War defense stockpiles into low-enriched uranium fuel for TVA nuclear reactors to produce electricity.
In a letter to NRC's Washington, D.C. office of Nuclear Material Safety and Safeguards dated Aug. 27, 2003, D.W. Parker, manager of Environmental, Health, Safety & Licensing of Framatome ANP writes that the company plans facility modifications at its Richland, Wash., facility to support the processing of low-enriched uranium powder for use in the fabrication of TVA's fuel bundles.
The majority of the facility modifications will support currently authorized activities and can be completed without a license amendment, according to the company. However, the operation of the BLEU material down-load station and BLEU powder storage areas will involve previously unlicensed activities, according to Framatome.
Parker states that Framatome anticipates submitting the amendment request on or about Nov. 15, 2003. FANP's planned production schedule will require beneficial use of the new facilities by Aug. 1, 2004. He writes that since " ... the successful delivery of BLEU fuel to TVA is vitally important to FANP's business goals and is strategically important to the U.S. government's non-proliferation goals, it is imperative that the licensing effort proceed smoothly without unplanned delays." Parker adds: "For this reason, FANP seeks NRC concurrence on the basic licensing strategy and seeks agreement that the required licensing actions can be completed in the time frame described above."
The Richland facility will receive the nitrate powder from both NFS and the Department of Energy's Savannah River Site. The facility then pelletizes the powder into a ceramic form. The pellets are then shipped to TVA to be used in the nuclear reactor.
Link said the company began receiving uranyl nitrate shipments from the Savannah River facility in July. He also said Framatome employees had been present at the NFS site in Erwin for some time while the BLEU Project went through NRC review. He said Framatome expected to receive its first shipment of uranyl nitrate from the Erwin site in October or November of next year.
"We would expect to ship material in powder once we get the system up and running on a weekly basis as well," Link said.
The second SNM amendment submitted by NFS authorizes processing operations at the BLEU Preparation facility and two administrative changes. The first amendment -- also approved by NRC -- permitted construction of a Uranyl Nitrate Building (UNB) adjacent to NFS for Framatome. The UNB is licensed by NRC through NFS's first licensing request.
Once completed, Link said, the UNB would hold up to 250,000 gallons of uranyl nitrate. The Erwin conversion facility is projected to begin operation in Aug. 2004.
The distance from Erwin to Richland is roughly 2,025 miles. Link said Framatome would contract with private security firms to guard uranyl nitrate shipments and accept responsibility for the transport of the materials. Framatome officials said the low-enriched uranyl nitrate could not be used to make "weapons of any kind" even if somehow acquired by a third party.
"It does have a low-level radioactivity associated with it, but it is not a material put in a ready form for the commercial industry," Link stated.
Formed through the partnership of European science giants AREVA Group and Siemens, Framatome is becoming an international player in the nuclear energy sector. Framatome ANP is headquarters in Paris with regional subsidiaries in the United States and Germany. With a total workforce of 14,000, the company reported 2002 revenues totaling more than $2.5 billion. AREVA holds 66 percent ownership with Siemens owning 34 percent ownership stake of Framatome.
The company announced Thursday that a consortium led by AREVA has been named preferred supplier by an electricity utility to construct a fifth nuclear power plant in Finland. The selected design is based on the European Pressurized Water Reactor (EPR) technology.
Framatome announced July 23 it had purchased a 35-percent stake in the Chinese company Shenzhen Nuclear Engineering (SNE), which specializes in providing nuclear services in China. Framatome ANP and China Nuclear Industry, a subsidiary of China Nuclear Engineering Group Corporation (CNEC), will each own 35 percent share in SNE. The purpose of SNE will be to provide services for the entire Chinese fleet of nuclear power plants. Presently, eight nuclear reactors, generating a total of 6500 megawatts of electricity, are operating in China with three additional reactors currently under construction, according to Framatome.
The company has assisted DOE in nuclear engineering and safety analysis, spent nuclear fuel and waste management, and environmental cleanup and quality assurance. In recent years, Framatome ANP has expanded its government client base to include the Department of Defense and NASA, according to the company's Web site.
Framatome ANP was awarded a subcontract in July by the Bechtel National Inc. to design, analyze and fabricate three evaporator systems in support of the Waste Treatment Plant Project at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Hanford Reservation near Richland.
The DOE reports that 60 percent by volume of the nation's high-level radioactive waste is stored at Hanford in aging, deteriorating tanks. An estimated 56 million gallons of radioactive waste are stored in 177 underground tanks, several of which leak. Hanford site also includes roughly 2,300 tons of spent nuclear fuel, about 270 billion gallons (a trillion liters) of groundwater contaminated above drinking water standards spread out over about 80 square miles of more than 1,700 waste sites, and about 500 contaminated facilities, all according to the DOE's Richland Operation Office.
In May 1989, DOE, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the Washington State Department of Ecology signed the Hanford Federal Facility Agreement and Consent Order -- commonly known as the Tri-Party Agreement -- outlining legally enforceable milestones for Hanford cleanup over the next several decades.
Link said Framatome ANP had no direct relationship to Hanford, but did have different service groups that supports activities at the site. Yeager called it "inappropriate" to link the company to the Hanford site.
"The primary reason is all our operations are regulated by the NRC, while the Handford site and other sites have been regulated by Department of Energy," he said. "The responsibilities are different in the regulatory environment in which you work and live."