Groups oppose NFS

By Thomas Wilson
star staff
twilson@starhq.com

  A consortium of environmental groups who have been fighting a uranium processing project at Nuclear Fuel Services Inc. in Erwin are seeking the revocation of three amendments to the company's special nuclear materials license.
  The State of Franklin Group of the Sierra Club, Friends of the Nolichucky River Valley, Tennessee Environmental Council, and the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance have petitioned an administrative judge with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to revoke three permits granted to NFS for a project involving the down-blending of weapons-grade uranium into nuclear power plant fuel.
  The NRC last week approved the third of three license amendment requests from NFS to possess and use special nuclear material at two facilities on its Erwin complex. The amendment is the final of three associated with the Blended Low-Enriched Uranium (BLEU) project.
  The Sierra Club and Nolichucky River Valley filed a petition in U.S. District Court in Greeneville in 2003 seeking to hold a public hearing on the ramifications of the BLEU project. NRC Administrative Law Judge Alan Rosenthal ruled the petitioners did not have standing to make the request in a decision issued earlier this year.
  Local Sierra Club chapter President Linda Modica confirmed a brief had been filed before an NRC administrative judge. The brief contained the groups' reasons for opposition to the BLEU project.
  "It is embargoed until NFS' lawyers have a chance to look over it," said Modica who did not elaborate on the brief's contents.
  The third license amendment, submitted by NFS in October of 2003, permits NFS to begin operations on an Oxide Conversion Facility and related Effluent Processing Building.
  In total, the three related license amendments have been submitted by NFS involving the construction of three new buildings -- the Uranyl Nitrate Building, the Oxide Conversion Building, and the Effluent Processing Building -- on a site referred to as the "BLEU Complex" at the company's site in Erwin.
  The NRC approved the first amendment, for a uranyl nitrite building, in July 2003. A second amendment, for the blended, low-enriched uranium preparation facility, was approved in January. The second license amendment request sought authorization to down-blend high-enriched uranium from U.S. Department of Energy stockpiles to a low-enriched form in a new NFS facility called the BLEU Preparation Facility (BPF).
   The BLEU Project involves the down-blending of 33 metric tons of highly enriched, bomb-grade uranium from Cold War defense stockpiles into low-enriched uranium fuel for commercial nuclear power reactors belonging to the Tennessee Valley Authority. The project comes with an estimated price tag of $150 million including $26 million in construction costs, according to NFS.
  Special nuclear material refers to plutonium, uranium-233, or uranium enriched in the isotopes uranium-233 or uranium-235.
  The BPF enables NFS to process approximately half of the BLEU Project's 33 metric tons of surplus HEU, with the other half being down-blended at the DOE's Savannah River Site (SRS) near Aiken, S.C.
  These facilities will use a process developed by NFS' partner Framatome ANP. The facilities will convert the liquid uranyl nitrate solution into a uranium oxide powder, which will be further processed at Framatome's Richland, Wash., facility into uranium fuel pellets for loading into fuel rods and assemblies for use by the TVA.
  Notice of the third approved license amendment was published on Thursday in the Federal Register. Non-proprietary portions of the safety evaluation report are available on the NRC's ADAMS document system, at http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/adams/web-based.html, using accession number ML042660436. Help in using ADAMS is available by contacting the NRC Public Document Room staff at 301-415-4737 or 1-800-397-4209, or by e-mail at pdr@nrc.gov.