Gallup Independent

Nukes: The Next Generation

By Kathy Helms
Dine Bureau

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

WINDOW ROCK -- The Nuclear Regulatory Commission's Advisory Committee on Nuclear Waste will meet next week in Maryland to discuss, among other things, advanced nuclear fuel recycling centers.

Nuclear Material Safety and Safeguards representatives plan to brief the committee on their "conceptual approach to licensing future Global Nuclear Energy Partnership facilities," according to an announcement in today's Federal Register.

The Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP), announced in February by the U.S. Department of Energy, is designed to reduce America¹s dependence on foreign sources of fossil fuels by recycling nuclear fuel and building a new generation of nuclear power plants, or "Advanced Burner Reactors," that would be powered by the recycled fuel.

GNEP plans also include developing and constructing small-scale reactors designed for the needs of developing countries.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission said recently that 16 power companies have announced their intentions to apply for combined construction and operating licenses for nearly 30 new nuclear plants. Worldwide, more than 130 new nuclear plants are on the drawing board.

DOE has invited industry from around the globe to propose ways to move forward with fuel treatment and separation, and for the Advanced Burner Reactor.

Government laboratories have been instructed to find the best way to proceed with an Advanced Fuel Cycle Facility.

An advanced nuclear fuel recycling center would contain facilities where usable uranium and transuranics are separated from spent light water reactor fuel and then used to make new fuel that can be reused in a nuclear reactor, according to DOE.

An advanced recycling reactor is a fast reactor that would demonstrate how to reuse and consume materials recovered from spent nuclear fuel, including long-lived radioactive elements such as plutonium that would otherwise have to be disposed of in a geologic repository. Both facilities could be located at the same site.

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad, N.M., is the "geologic repository" for transuranic wastes. Transuranic wastes can include plutonium, neptunium, americium and curium.

Contact-handled transuranic waste now passes through the Navajo Nation and Gallup via Interstate 40 on its way to the WIPP.

Navajo Nation Council Delegate Lorenzo Curley is sponsoring legislation to approve a cooperative agreement between DOE's Carlsbad Field Office and the Navajo Nation.

That agreement would allow DOE to continue transporting transuranic waste through 10 Navajo Nation chapter communities in Apache and McKinley Counties once the Nation signs off on the agreement.

Though the Notice of Financial Assistance Award states that the Nation could receive up to $250,000 over the life of the agreement, DOE has only obligated $31,250 for the fiscal year to hire a WIPP Emergency Services Liaison.

That liaison would conduct tabletop exercises and community education events to prepare the Navajo Nation to deal with an accidental spill of radioactive transuranic waste on I-40.

 Curley told the Navajo Nation Public Safety Committee recently that future waste shipments would contain much higher levels of radioactivity than the wastes now passing through the reservation.

DOE announced Nov. 29 that it had selected the recipients of GNEP siting grants. Eleven sites, including two in New Mexico, are to be analyzed for potential nuclear recycling facilities.

Eleven commercial and public consortia have been selected to receive up to $16 million in grants, subject to negotiation, to conduct detailed siting studies for the spent fuel recycling facilities. 

DOE will award the grants early next year after negotiations are completed.

Of the 11 sites located throughout the country, six are owned and operated by DOE. The study sites and sponsors are:

* Atomic City, Idaho, EnergySolutions LLC

* Barnwell, S.C., EnergySolutions LLC

* Hanford Site, Wash., Tri-City Industrial Development Council/Columbia Basin Consulting Group

* Hobbs, N.M., Eddy Lea Energy Alliance

* Idaho National Laboratory, Idaho, Regional Development Alliance Inc.

* Morris, Ill., General Electric Co.

* Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Tenn., Community Reuse Organization of East Tennessee

* Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant, Ky., Paducah Uranium Plant Asset Utilization Inc.

* Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant, Ohio, Piketon Initiative for Nuclear Independence LLC

* Roswell, N.M., EnergySolutions LLC

* Savannah River National Laboratory, S.C., Economic Development Partnership of Aiken and Edgefield Counties.

The grantees will perform detailed siting studies related to hosting one or both of the Consolidated Fuel Treatment Center and the Advanced Burner Reactor.

Congress provided up to $20 million in FY 2006 for spent fuel recycling facilities siting studies. The study information may be used in environmental impact statements to evaluate potential impacts. Once the EIS is completed, DOE then will decide whether to move forward with the facilities, and if so, where to locate them.

Fourteen applications were submitted to DOE for review and from those, 12 were chosen to receive a comprehensive merit review. Two of the 12 recently decided to collaborate because they plan to study the same site, DOE said.

The development of advanced nuclear fuel recycling facilities is a major element of GNEP, part of President Bush¹s Advanced Energy Initiative.

For more information: http://www.gnep.gov/ and http://www.nuclear.energy.gov/.