The NFRC was established in 2002 to promote the construction and operation of nuclear reprocessing facilities. NFRC promotes reprocessing commercial spent nuclear fuel that is generated by commercial nuclear power plants.

Reprocessing dramatically reduces the amount of high-level radioactive waste that would have to be stored in a geologic repository. We also support reprocessing plutonium and highly enriched uranium from nuclear warheads into fuel for use in commercial nuclear power plants.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

NFRC Opposes Retreat on Savannah River MOX Facility

NFRC and the state of South Carolina are outraged by the suspension of the Savannah River MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility construction

State of SC filing a lawsuit against the Department of Energy

NFRC supports the lawsuit

South Carolina is home to the US Department of Energy's (DoE's) Savannah River Site, which provides storage for military weapons material. Some of this - classified as 'surplus' plutonium - has long been earmarked for destruction as fuel in civilian nuclear power reactors. The chosen method for this was manufacture into mixed oxide fuel assemblies via the dedicated plant under construction at the site - but the funding to build this plant was reduced to zero in the DoE's budget request for FY2015. 

The state's attorney general Alan Wilson has stated:
"Through the unilateral indefinite suspension... without any plutonium disposition alternative - without Congressional authorization or approval - and without any legal authority, the federal government has failed to not only honor its commitment to South Carolina but has breached its obligation to responsibly address the disposal of surplus plutonium."

The origin of the project was a bilateral deal made with Russia to remove equal amounts of weapons-usable material from both countries' stockpiles. The two nations agreed to dispose of 34 tonnes of plutonium. America opted for MOX, while Russia decided to use its plutonium as fuel for fast reactors and continues with this.

After around $4 billion appropriated from US budgets over the years, the US MOX plant stands at 60% complete, according to South Carolina's legal complaint. The state said the construction had been employing 1800 people, with another 4500 jobs supported in the local Aiken county. Furthermore, South Carolina is unhappy about remaining the custodian of the unwanted plutonium which now has no disposal strategy. 

Savannah River MOX Facility

The DoE's stated reason for cutting funding for the MOX plant is that "it has become apparent that [the plant] will be significantly more expensive than anticipated, and therefore, the budget request places the MOX facility in cold stand-by while the department evaluates plutonium disposition options."

A report from the General Accounting Office last month said the cost of the MOX plant had risen from an original approved estimate of $4.8 billion to some $7.7 billion as of 2012. At the same time the scheduled start of operation had moved back three years to late 2019.

Wilson called the decision to 'close-up' the MOX plant and stop work on it a "violation of the constitution." The state's lawsuit, filed against the DoE, contests its use of Congressionally authorized funds for close-out rather than construction.

The move to halt the MOX project echoes the 2009 decision by the DoE and President Barack Obama to declare the Yucca Mountain project to be 'not an option' and zero its funding. Appointed by Obama, then-chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission Gregory Jaczko caused it to abandon its review of Yucca Mountain's license application. Four years of legal fights saw this declared illegal by the US Court of Appeals and the US is now beginning to launch a new strategy for disposal of its used nuclear fuel. However, the lack of a recognized disposal route has had ongoing knock-on effects for industry, with the NRC currently having taken around 18 months to rewrite the 'waste confidence' rule without which it cannot issue a license for a new nuclear plant. (World Nuclear News, 3/19/2014)

Monday, March 10, 2014

Workers To Enter WIPP Post Radiation Detection

A recovery process has started at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) with the aim of resuming operations. Seventeen workers have so far tested positive for extremely low levels of contamination following a radiological event at the facility last month.
DoE officials recently visited WIPP to observe site recovery activities (Image: DoE)

The WIPP plant in New Mexico is owned by the US Department of Energy (DoE) and operated by Nuclear Waste Partnership LLC (NWP). The facility disposes of transuranic waste packages from the US military in an underground salt formation. An underground monitor detected airborne radiation within the plant on 14 February.

The DoE and NWP have lowered radiological and air quality instruments down the salt handling and air intake shafts at WIPP. Preliminary findings show no detectable radioactive contamination in the air or on the equipment lowered and returned to the surface. Air quality results were also found to be normal.

A team of workers may be sent into the underground facility as soon as the end of the week to characterize the mine's stability and attempt to identify the source of the release. Once identified, the team will isolate the source and implement a plan to remove the contamination hazard.

There were no workers underground at the time but, as a precautionary measure, all those at the surface were checked for external contamination. Filters on the underground plant's vents removed at least 99.87% of contaminants from the air, but trace amounts of americium and plutonium were subsequently detected by an above-ground sampling station near the plant.

Since the event, only essential staff have been allowed on site and no shipments of waste have been delivered to the plant.

So far, tests on 17 workers have indicated "extremely low" contamination. As no detectable contamination has been found in urine samples, it is assumed that the contamination was not inhaled into the lungs.

The DoE and NWP stressed that as the levels of exposure are so low - just above background levels - none of the workers is expected to experience any health effects.
Air sampling data continues to show that no significant contamination has been found offsite. (World Nuclear News, 4/10/2014)

Thursday, March 6, 2014

USEC Files Bankrptcy Protection

Bethesda-based nuclear energy provider USEC filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Wednesday after delays to a major centrifuge project and shifts in the global market made it impossible for the company to repay debt due later this year. The company expects to receive court approval and emerge from bankruptcy by this summer.

The bankruptcy filing will allow the company to pursue its ongoing business objectives with greater certainty by strengthening its balance sheet.  The deal calls for the note holders to receive $200 million of new debt and 79 percent of the restructured company’s common stock. Existing shareholders would receive 5 percent of the new common stock as part of the deal.

Toshiba Corp. and the Babcock & Wilcox Co. will each take on $20.2 million in debt and 8 percent of new common stock as part of the arrangement.

The company’s management will remain in place following the bankruptcy, though its board of directors will be replaced.

USEC issued $530 million worth of notes in 2007 with the expectation it would repay that money by October of this year. In that time, an economic downturn and natural disaster have dramatically changed the global market for nuclear power, Jacobson said.
The company has been unable to secure a $2 billion loan guarantee and other funding necessary to complete its American Centrifuge Plant. The company had expected the uranium enrichment facility in Piketon, Ohio would be yielding revenue by this point.

The earthquake and tsunami that took out a major nuclear reactor in Fukushima, Japan in March 2011 raised troubling questions about the safety of nuclear power and caused global prices for nuclear fuel to drop. USEC ended last year with $314 million in cash on its balance sheet. (Wash Post, 3/5/2014)