Tag Archives: Tom Clements

BOMB PLANT NEWS | FOIA Documents Show Plan to Pursue Experimental Nuclear Reactors at Savannah River Site without Required NRC Licenses

Documents Reveal Reactors Could Be Fueled by Radioactive Fuel Reprocessed at SRS, Leading to More Importation of Dangerous High-Level Radioactive Waste into South Carolina

Documents obtained by Friends of the Earth under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that a private contractor plans to pursue  experimental nuclear reactors without licensing by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, even though such licensing is required by law.
The revelation that two prototype “small modular reactors” are being pursued by Savannah River Nuclear Solutions, the private contractor that manages the Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site near Aiken, South Carolina, “in advance of any design certification and licensing by the NRC” has drawn the charge from Friends of the Earth that such a move does not comply with pertinent U.S. regulations and must be dropped.
“We call on Savannah River Nuclear Solutions and the Department of Energy (DOE) to immediately affirm that no experimental nuclear reactors will be pursued in South Carolina without the required license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission,” said Tom Clements, Southeastern Nuclear Campaign Coordinator for Friends of the Earth.  “Construction of ‘small modular reactors’ that are not licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission would violate U.S. law as well as endanger the public and we will strongly oppose any attempt to avoid required licensing of such reactors.”  
Small modular reactors are being pursued by various companies but at present only exist as concepts. Although such reactors would be smaller than those currently operating, modular reactors would still produce nuclear waste and pose the same safety and proliferation problems of larger reactors. Licensing discussions between at least one firm and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission have begun.
On January 7 Friends of the Earth obtained two Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) related to two different small modular reactors. The memoranda were obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request to the Savannah River Site.  The memoranda, related to the “Hyperion SMR” (signed August 2010) and the “GE-Hitachi PRISM SMR” (signed September 2010) designs, both state that “[the U.S. Department of Energy] would assume responsibility for regulating the design, construction, and operation of a PRISM prototype under DOE’s existing authority as codified in l0 CFR 830, in advance of any design certification and licensing by the NRC.” 
The federal Energy Reorganization Act of 1974, which created the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Energy Research and Development Administration (now DOE), requires NRC licensing of a nuclear reactor “when operated in any other manner for the purpose of demonstrating the suitability for commercial application of such a reactor.”  Thus, unless the projects are pursued exclusively by the Department of Energy with no private involvement, Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensing is mandated.
“In order to avoid required regulation, it appears that the Savannah River Site is trying to manipulate things so that requirements of the Energy Reorganization  Act are avoided, but that will be impossible to do,” said Clements.  “In addition, the private firm that intends to construct these experimental reactors appears poised to try to force taxpayers to pick up the cost. Savannah River Nuclear Solutions must pay for its own activities. Friends of the Earth calls on DOE and Savannah River Nuclear Solutions and its partners to demonstrate that 100 percent of the funding for any experimental reactors will come from private sources and that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will play the role required by law.”
The Department of Energy, which is not a party to the memoranda and which is generally not regulated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, would have to take over and finance 100 percent of the projects if they were to go forward as proposed in the MOUs.  Friends of the Earth believes that the private companies developing the experimental reactors, which are only concepts at this point, must provide 100 percent of the financing, but even partial private financing would still trigger the requirement that licensing be carried out by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.  
The Hyperion memorandum, signed for the Savannah River National Laboratory by Garry Flowers, President and CEO of Savannah River Nuclear Solutions, also states that the fuel for the Hyperion reactor could come from commercial reprocessing in the H-Canyon reprocessing plant, an idea that is already stirring controversy and which may be impossible to pursue as the H-Canyon may be placed on stand-by due to budget constraints. Clements of Friends of the Earth and many members of the public spoke out against use of the H-Canyon facility for commercial reprocessing R&D before a January 7 meeting in Augusta, Georgia of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future as such R&D and full-scale reprocessing could lead to commercial radioactive spent fuel being dumped at SRS.  Clements affirms that environmental and public interest groups will fight against SRS from becoming the new Yucca Mountain.
Likewise, the PRISM memorandum states that the Savannah River Site plutonium fuel (MOX) facility, now under construction, could be used to fabricate the first fuel for the reactor, which is in direct contradiction to pledges by the Energy Department that the facility would not be used for missions beyond fabricating surplus weapons plutonium into MOX fuel for existing light-water reactors.  (That program is in trouble as the Energy Department has failed to identify reactors to use the MOX fuel and the facility could end up could end up sitting idle.  A multi-year MOX testing program will be required by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission even if reactors are identified, and the Energy Department was unable to outline the details of such a testing program during a public tour of the Savannah River Site on January 6, 2011, in parallel with a tour by the presidential Blue Ribbon Commission.)
As an indication that some are thinking of SRS as the new Yucca Mountain, in a SRNS presentation to the SRS Citizens Advisory Board on September 29, 2010 entitled SRS Energy Park – Vision and Implementing Concepts, the SMRs are pitched as part of a “potential alternative to Yucca Mountain.” 
Contrary to the approach presented by Savannah River Nuclear Solutions in the two memoranda, the Tennessee Valley Authority is pursuing an mPower “small modular reactor” and has recently revealed that it plans to seek a construction license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.  But like other small modular reactors, the mPower reactor is but a concept this point and faces a host of technical and licensing hurdles.

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BOMB PLANT NEWS | Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board report to Congress

The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board has issued its “first periodic Report to Congress on Infrastructure Needs in the Department of Energy’s Aging Defense Nuclear Facilities.”  Below are the excerpts on aging issued related to the H-Canyon reprocessing plant and the tanks containing radioactive nuclear waste.  These are the main things at SRS we need to keep a close eye on for accidental release of radioactive material or accidents harming workers or the public (till the MOX plant stats operation…if it ever does…..hope not…).  Tom Clements   


Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board report to Congress  

September 10, 2010  

To the Congress of the United States:  

“The Department of Energy (DOE) continues to rely on aging facilities to carry out hazardous production missions. Examples of this persistent problem include the 9212 Complex at the Y-12 National Security Complex (portions of which are more than 60 years old), the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research (CMR) Facility at Los Alamos (55 years old), and the first high-level waste tanks built at the Hanford and Savannah River Sites (up to 56 years old). There are other examples of degrading and aging facilities that will require significant capital expenditures for replacement or for repair and upgrade of key systems.”  


Savannah River Site, H-Canyon – Aging Systems and Structures  

“The board encouraged DOE to continue aging management evaluations of H-Canyon and adopt a strategy to address age-related degradation. Components showing localized degradation include canyon wall concrete, the sand filter cileing, electrical wiring, and the canyon roof liner.”

Savannah River Site, Concentration, Storage, and Transfer Facility (Tank Farms)Aging Tanks and Systems:  

“DOE continues to store liquid wastes in some of the old noncompliant tanks.  DOE expects these old tanks will contain waste through 2018.  Support systems require increased attention for monitoring and repair.  The Board issued a letter dated January 6, 2010, encouraging DOE to develop more efficient tank inspection techniques.

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Notice | Savannah River Site | Citizens Advisory Board


Savannah River Site

Savannah River Site

Do you want DOE at the to add you to a new e-mail list (as part of an effort by them to do better outreach to the concerned public about future use of the site)?

If you been following the vague DOE proposals for “energy parks” at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina or at Piketon in Ohio, you will know that I have been pushing DOE for not having a clear “energy park” policy and for failing to involve all stakeholders and the public in the decision-making process involving future use of the sites.  At SRS, amongst other things, the SRS boosters still have their eyes set on a reprocessing “park,” which DOE officials have urged them to pursue, and at Piketon a consortium of Duke and Areva has announced the aim is to build an EPR reactor at the site. The public has so far been cut out of any planning with DOE on these projects or any other possible uses of the sites.

(I’m attending the SRS Citizens Advisory Board this afternoon and all day Tuesday and will have my ears open to anything said about the “energy park” idea.)

In response to my concerns, a DOE Assistant General Counsel recently wrote to me and said that “my office and DOE,’s Savannah River Operations Office (Operations Office) are in active discussion, and the Operations Office is currently working to establish a process that will provide transparency and meaningful public participation in relation to plans to utilize land at the Site as an energy park and with regard to relevant NEPA procedures.”

As part of what I assume is the above transparency effort mentioned above, DOE-SRS e-mailed me last Friday and said that “We are trying to expand our notification to include you and other non government organizations interested in SRS.”  The e-mail went on to ask if I would help them pull together a list of NGO contacts, which would want to receive information from DOE about things at SRS.  I don’t know if DOE is making this effort at Piketon or other sites but what they do here may be indicative of how DOE handles the “energy park” approach at other sites.

While I don’t want to be doing DOE’s work, I do think it important that any groups, which want to be informed of things happening at SRS, particularly about planning for any “energy park,” be on this list. They should have been doing a better job at outreach in the past but I am willing to help them get better in working with environmental stakeholders and not just with contractors and local special interest groups.  We need to let them see that NGOs a re concerned about what happens at the site for any “energy park” proposals so I hope many of you will want to be on their list.

Thus, if you want your organization to be on DOE’s notification list for SRS activities, please affirm your interest to me and I’ll pass your name, organization name and e-mail address on to the SRS Office of External Affairs. 

 For more information contact Tom Clements@ tel. 803-834-3084/ cell 803-240-7268/ tomclements329@cs.com.

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