NFS submits final license amendment for BLEU Project

By Thomas Wilson

   Nuclear Fuel Services, Inc. has submitted its third and final license amendment request to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to operate the Blended Low Enriched Uranium (BLEU) Oxide Conversion Facility.
   Ken Clark, public affairs officer with NRC's Region II division in Atlanta, said the company sent the final portions of the third request to NRC on Nov. 14.
   "The staff has been conducting an acceptance review of the amendment," said Clark. "If it is accepted it will be docketed."
   The third license amendment application requests the authority to convert uranyl nitrate solutions to uranium dioxide powder and conduct associated effluent processing. The uranium dioxide powder would be shipped to Framatome ANP, Inc., for conversion to commercial reactor fuel to be used in the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) nuclear power reactors. Activities associated with the third license amendment would include the construction and operation of an Effluent Processing Building (EPB).
   "The submittal covers in detail the process for converting the material and includes an integrated safety analysis of the facility's operation," said NFS spokesman Tony Treadway in a statement released Thursday.
   In addition to its amendment request, NFS submitted: changes to its emergency plan, fundamental nuclear material control plan, and its physical security plan. All the submittals are considered part of the amendment request. If the application is accepted, a notice of receipt and opportunity to request a hearing will be published in the Federal Register, Clark 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 blending 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.
   The BLEU Project involves the blending down 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 electricity produced from the BLEU Project is equivalent to 800,000 rail cars of coal burned in conventional power plants, according to NFS estimates. The project comes with an estimated price tag of $150 million including $26 million in construction costs, according to NFS.
   NFS submitted its first of three license amendment requests for the Blended Low-Enriched Uranium Project on Feb. 28 to authorize the storage of low-enriched uranium at its Uranyl Nitrate Storage Building. The NRC blessed the project with a Finding of No Significant Impact on July 9.
   The first shipment of low-enriched uranium from Savannah River Site in Aiken, S.C., rolled into the NFS plant in Erwin in July, according to the Department of Energy. NFS intends to relocate processing equipment previously used elsewhere at its Erwin site to an existing but inactive production area that will be modified and designated the Blended Low-Enriched Uranium Preparation Facility (BPF).
   The final amendment also opens the door for a ruling that could grant a public hearing into the project on the strength of environmental groups and private citizens who have challenged the BLEU Project's long-term effect in Northeast Tennessee. Petitions filed by a consortium of environmental groups and several private citizens filed petitions seeking standing with NRC.
   Two petitions seeking a public hearing on the project have been filed in U.S. District Court in Greeneville by environmental groups including the State of Franklin Sierra Club, Tennessee Environmental Council and Friends of the Nolichucky River Valley and Kathy Helms-Hughes, formerly of Butler. A Greeneville attorney has filed separate petitions on behalf of 15 other private citizens.
   All petitioners claim they have "standing" because they live, own property, or recreate in the area of NFS and the Nolichucky River. The petitioners must establish standing in order to have a voice in the public review process. Petitioners claim that if NFS were allowed to proceed with the blend-down project, it would be harmful to their health, drinking water, property values, and the environmental administrative judge appointed to hear petitioners' objections, decided not to rule on the petitioners' request for standing until NFS had filed the third licensing amendment.
   Presiding Judge Alan S. Rosenthal with the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board Panel for the NRC in Washington, D.C., was expected to render a decision on the petitioners' standing after NFS submits its third LAR.
   Environmental groups have claimed NFS multiple amendment requests constitute "segmentation," and is illegal under National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requirements.