Firms Plan to Pursue Experimental Nuclear Reactors without Required Licenses

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Kelly Trout
Email: ktrout@foe.org
Phone: 202-222-0722

Firms Plan to Pursue Experimental Nuclear Reactors without Required Licenses

Documents Reveal Reactors Could Be Fueled by Radioactive Fuel from Savannah River Site, Leading to More Importation of Dangerous Radioactive Waste into South Carolina

COLUMBIA, SC - 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 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 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.”

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
or involvement 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.

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 Blue Ribbon Commission.

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 fr om
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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Notes:

1.   The two five-page memoranda are available at http://foe.org/sites/default/files/MOU_GE-Hitachi_PRISM_9.2010.pdf and http://foe.org/sites/default/files/MOU_Hyperion_SMR_8.2010.pdf.

2.   See text of Energy Reorganization Act on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission website at: http://www.nrc.gov/about-nrc/governing-laws.html

SeeSec. 202. Licensing and Related Regulatory Functions Respecting
Selected Administration Facilities - “Notwithstanding the exclusions
provided for in section 110 a. or any other provisions of the Atomic
Energy Act of 1954, as amended (42 USC 2140(a)), the Nuclear Regulatory
Commission shall, except as otherwise specifically provided by section
110 b. of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, as amended (42 USC 2140(b)), or
other law, have licensing and related regulatory authority pursuant to
chapters 6, 7, 8, and 10 of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, as amended,
as to the following facilities of the Administration: … (2)Other
demonstration nuclear reactors–except those in existence on the
effective date of this Act–when operated as part of the power generation
facilities of an electric utility system, or when operated in any other
manner for the purpose of demonstrating the suitability for commercial
application of such a reactor.”

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Contact:Tom Clements, Southeastern Nuclear Campaign Coordinator,
Friends of the Earth, 1112 Florence Street, Columbia, SC 29201, tel.
803-834-3084, cell 803-240-7268

Attachment Size
MOU_GE-Hitachi_PRISM_9.2010.pdf 359 KB
MOU_Hyperion_SMR_8.2010.pdf 321.1 KB
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