Judge voids UPF decision, requires more seismic hazard analysis

Y-12 Uranium Processing Facility
Structural steel installation is under way on the eastern half of the Main Process Building of the Uranium Processing Facility, the Y-12 National Security Complex said Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019. (Photo courtesy CNS Y-12)

Note This story was last updated at 9:38 a.m. Sept. 25.

A federal judge in Knoxville on Tuesday said a critical decision made in 2016 for enriched uranium operations at the Y-12 National Security Complex, including for the $6.5 billion Uranium Processing Facility, violated a national environmental law, and she ordered the decision vacated, or set aside.

The UPF is already under construction, and Wedenesday morning, the National Nuclear Security Administration, which oversees work at Y-12, said construction will continue.

The 104-page opinion and order was filed in U.S. District Court on Tuesday by Chief U.S. District Judge Pamela L. Reeves.

One of the plaintiffs said the decision to vacate the amended record of decision published in the Federal Register in 2016 means the NNSA no longer has the legal authority to continue construction work at UPF.

But the NNSA said it was pleased that the court’s memorandum opinion rejected almost all of the plaintiff’s claims regarding National Environmental Policy Act violations related to UPF construction.

“However, with the court agreeing that there was inadequate consideration of new information concerning seismic hazards at Y-12, NNSA will review the seismic analysis while conferring with the Department of Justice on the possibility of appeal,” the NNSA said. “In the meantime, construction of UPF will proceed.”

Besides the amended record of decision, Reeves said supplement analyses prepared in 2016 and 2018 also violated the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, and she said they were to be set aside as well.

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DOE has scoping EIS meeting on Versatile Test Reactor on Wednesday

The U.S. Department of Energy will have a scoping meeting Wednesday night for an environmental impact statement, or EIS, for a Versatile Test Reactor that could be located at Oak Ridge National Laboratory or Idaho National Laboratory.

The Versatile Test Reactor would be used to test fuels and materials for commercial nuclear power reactors.

Besides being under consideration for the Versatile Test Reactor, Idaho National Laboratory is also under consideration for the fabrication of the fuel needed to run the Versatile Test Reactor. The Savannah River Site in South Carolina is also being considered for the fuel fabrication.

The public can comment through September 4 about what should be included in a draft environmental impact statement for the reactor, according to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. DOE will publish the final EIS and make it available to the public for 30 days before issuing a record of decision, TDEC said.

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Test reactor could be built at Oak Ridge, Idaho

Oak Ridge National Laboratory Sign
Photo by ORNL

Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Idaho National Laboratory are being considered as potential sites for a test reactor, where fuels and materials could be tested for new types of nuclear power reactors.

It’s not clear where the test reactor would be built at ORNL, if it’s built there.

The fast-neutron reactor, called the Versatile Test Reactor, would be sodium-cooled and small, about 300 megawatts thermal. It would be based on the GE Hitachi PRISM power reactor. That’s a small module design based on the Experimental Breeder Reactor-II, which operated for more than 30 years in Idaho, the U.S. Department of Energy said in a notice published in the Federal Register on Monday. (Fast neutrons are highly energetic neutrons that travel at speeds ranging from tens to thousands of kilometers per second.)

The Versatile Test Reactor would be a pool-type reactor and use metal alloy fuels that could include uranium, plutonium, zirconium and other alloying metals. It would not be a power reactor, and it would not generate electricity. It could generate at least 4×1015 neutrons per square centimeter per second.

Reactor operations could start as early as the end of 2026, DOE said. Fuel for the reactor could be fabricated at Idaho National Laboratory or the Savannah River Site in South Carolina.

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NRC has hearing on Oak Ridge site that could host small nuclear reactors

Image by the NRC from the April 2019 “Reader’s Guide” for the “Final Environmental Impact Statement for an Early Site Permit at the Clinch River Nuclear Site.”

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has scheduled a hearing for an application for a site in west Oak Ridge where small modular nuclear reactors could be built.

The hearing has been scheduled for 9 a.m. Wednesday, August 14, at the NRC in Rockville, Maryland.

The NRC will discuss an early site permit application submitted by the Tennessee Valley Authority for the Clinch River Nuclear Site. TVA has proposed using the 935-acre site, which is along the Clinch River south of Heritage Center (the former K-25 site), to build two or more small modular reactors. The site once hosted the former Clinch River Breeder Reactor Project.

During the August 14 hearing, the NRC will have an evidentiary session to hear testimony and receive exhibits in the uncontested proceeding for TVA’s early site permit application, according to a notice published in the Federal Register on Monday.

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Small reactors can be safely located on Clinch River site, NRC says

Two or more small modular nuclear reactors could be built on a 935-acre area of the Clinch River Nuclear Site in west Oak Ridge, south of Heritage Center near Highway 58. (Image from the “Final Safety Evaluation Report for the Early Site Permit Application for the Clinch River Nuclear Site” published by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission in June 2019.)

Two or more small nuclear reactors could be safely located on a site in west Oak Ridge, a federal agency said this month.

The reactors could be built on the Clinch River Nuclear Site. That’s a 935-acre site south of Heritage Center (the former K-25 site) in the Roane County portion of Oak Ridge. The plant would be off Bear Creek Road near Highway 58 on a peninsula surrounded by the Clinch River on the east, south, and west.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has completed a final safety evaluation report for an early site permit application for the site.

“The report concludes there are no safety aspects that would preclude issuing the permit for the site,” the NRC said in a press release Tuesday. The report, which is about 600 pages, had been expected this month.

The Tennessee Valley Authority applied for the early site permit in May 2016. The NRC’s final safety evaluation report for the site was published Friday, June 14.

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