NRC posts final NFS license amendment request

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has announced that it received the third and final request from Nuclear Fuel Services, Inc. to amend its NRC Special Nuclear Materials License SNM-124 for the Blended Low-Enriched Uranium (BLEU) Project at NFS's Erwin facility.
   NRC posted receipt of the request on Dec. 24, 2003 on the Federal Register. The third amendment submission requests NRC to authorize processing operations in the Oxide Conversion Building and the Effluent Processing Building at the BLEU Complex at NFS's site in Erwin. The request is the third of three license amendment requests planned to support operations associated with downblending and conversion of high-enriched uranium materials to low-enriched uranium oxides.
   The third amendment application contains a proprietary Integrated Safety Analysis Summary for the OCB and EPB operations. By separate letters dated Oct. 24, 2003 and Nov. 3, 2003, the third amendment included changes to the NFS emergency plan, fundamental nuclear material control plan, and its physical security plan. All the submittals are considered part of the amendment request.
   The application will be reviewed by NRC staff for conformance with NRC regulations using the "Standard Review Plan for the Review of a License Application for a Fuel Cycle Facility" and other applicable agency regulations and guidance.
   If NRC approves the request, the approval will be documented in an amendment to NRC Special Nuclear Materials License SNM-124. Before approving the request, NRC will need to make the findings required by the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, as amended, and NRC regulations. The findings will be documented in a Safety Evaluation Report and either an Environmental Assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI), or an Environmental Impact Statement.
   In a letter dated June 28, 2002, the NRC issued an EA/FONSI to support the first amendment request for this project. The NRC staff may use this assessment for additional information in developing the EA/FONSI or EIS for this action.
   Attachments 2 and 3 of the NFS license amendment request dated Oct. 23, 2003, are being withheld from the public due to NRC regulations covered under Title 10 of the Code of Federal Regulations. The Physical Safeguards Plan and the Fundamental Nuclear Material Control Plan also were deemed "proprietary information" and are being withheld from the public pursuant to NRC regulations.
   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 is currently manufacturing high-enriched nuclear reactor fuel at its facility in Erwin. NFS is constructing a new complex at the Erwin site to manufacture low-enriched nuclear reactor fuel. NFS is requesting this amendment to authorize operations that will convert liquid uranyl nitrate solutions into solid uranium oxide powder as part of the process for downblending and conversion of high-enriched uranium materials into low-enriched uraniumoxide. 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. 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.
   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.
   NFS submitted its first of three license amendment requests for the BLEU Project on Feb. 28, 2003 to authorize the storage of low-enriched uranium at the UNB. The NRC blessed the amendment with a Finding of No Significant Impact on July 9, 2003.
   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.
   Two petitions seeking a public hearing on the project have been filed in U.S. District Court in Greeneville by a private citizens and a consortium of environmental groups including the State of Franklin Sierra Club, Tennessee Environmental Council and Friends of the Nolichucky River Valley. A Greeneville attorney has filed separate petitions on behalf of 15 other private citizens. Environmental groups have claimed NFS multiple amendment requests constitute "segmentation," and are illegal under National Environmental Policy Act requirements.
   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. 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 was expected to render a decision on the petitioners' standing after NFS submitted its third license amendment request.
   Anyone whose interest may be affected by this proceeding may file a request for a hearing within 30 days of the Dec. 24, 2003, publication of the notice in the Federal Register. The request for a hearing must be filed with the Office of the Secretary, by mail or telegram addressed to the Secretary, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Washington, DC 20555, Attention: Rulemaking and Adjudications Staff. A request can be delivered to the Rulemaking and Adjudications Staff of the Office of the Secretary at One White Flint North, 11555 Rockville Pike, Rockville, Md. 20852-2738, between 7:45 a.m. and 4:15 p.m., on federal workdays.
   However, because of continuing disruptions in the delivery of mail to U.S. government offices, the NRC asks that requests for hearing be transmitted to the Secretary of the Commission either by means of facsimile transmission to 301-415-1101, or by e-mail to hearingdocket@nrc.gov.