The National Nuclear Security Administration has published a Notice of Intent to prepare a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement on expanding the production of tritium for nuclear weapons in the Watts Bar and Sequoyah nuclear reactors in Tennessee.
The NOI includes a startling revelation: current tritium production operations are releasing three to four times the amount of tritium into the Tennessee River as was predicted in the original 1997 EIS.
Producing weapons tritium in a commercial power reactor, which the US has been doing since 2004, violates a long-standing ban on crossing the line between civilian and nuclear power. The United States, in announcing its intention to violate the ban in 1999 asserted the ban was only on “special nuclear materials” and the “special nuclear materials” means only highly enriched uranium and plutonium. It was a pathetic dodge at the time, and it remains one.
When the US chooses to produce weapons materials in commercial reactors, they essentially give any other country the greenlight to do the same thing.
The reason for the SEIS, though, is not to admit they have dumped more than 30,000 curies of tritium into the Tennessee River. It’s also not to announce the demand for tritium has been less than they originally expected. No, it is to announce they want to expand tritium production—increasing the number of Tritium Producing Burnable Absorber Rods (TPBARs) by 50%!
The NNSA has announced a public hearing on their scheme—it’s called a Scoping meeting and its the first public stage in an environmental impact statement’s preparation. The hearing will be held Thursday, October 20, 2011 in Athens, Tennessee from 6:30-10:00pm.
OREPA has sent out an initial reaction media release—see below.
NATIONAL NUCLEAR SECURITY ADMINISTRATION ACKNOWLEDGES
RADIOACTIVE TRITIUM LEAKS AT WATTS BAR
“THREE TO FOUR TIMES HIGHER” THAN ESTIMATED;
ANNOUNCE PLAN FOR 50% INCREASE IN PRODUCTION
5,000 – 6,000 CURIES/YEAR RELEASED FROM WATTS BAR
AS BYPRODUCT OF TRITIUM PRODUCTION FOR NUCLEAR WEAPONS
MORE THAN 30,000 CURIES SINCE 2004 RELEASED TO RIVER
“And we want to release more,” is the bottom line for the National Nuclear Security Administration and the Tennessee Valley Authority. The announcement of higher than estimated releases of tritium from the Watts Bar Nuclear Reactor is buried in the Notice of Intent to prepare a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement on a proposal to increase tritium production at the Watts Bar nuclear power plant in Spring City, TN, and expand it to TVA’s Sequoyah nuclear power plant upstream from Chattanooga, TN.
The proposed action would increase the permitted number of Tritium Producing Burnable Absorber Rods from 1,700 per fuel cycle to 2,500.
Unable to quantify exactly how much radioactive tritium is being released into the Tennessee River, NNSA/TVA proposes to examine the environmental impact of 5 curies/year per TPBAR. In the original EIS, prepared in the late 1990’s, NNSA/TVA estimated each TPBAR would release one curie of radioactive tritium per year. The Notice of Intent for the SEIS, published in the Federal Register, announces: “After several years of tritium production experience at TVA’s Watts Bar Unit 1, NNSA has determined that tritium permeation through TPBAR cladding into the reactor cooling water occurs at a higher rate than previously projected.”
“What makes this remarkably brazen is the same announcement also admits the need for tritium is less than NNSA originally projected in 1999,” said Ralph Hutchison, coordinator of the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance. “With the likely prospect of additional arms control agreements, and budget constraints leading to calls for a reduction in the bloated US strategic reserve (the 5,000 or so warheads we keep in the garage in case we ever use up our 1,500 deployed warheads and need more), the need for tritium will continue to decline. Still these agencies are proposing a 50% increase in production!”
OREPA argued in the 1997 EIS process that the plan to produce tritium for nuclear weapons at Watts Bar would have unintended consequences. “Our use of commercial nuclear facilities to produce nuclear materials for weapons has sent a powerful, clear and dangerous signal to the rest of the world,” Hutchison said. “It has undermined our efforts to constrain weapons production activities, crossed a once-impermeable boundary, and diminished our security. Now we learn it’s also dumped three times as much radioactive pollution into the Tennessee River than they told us it would.”
The Notice of Intent to Prepare a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement announced a public scoping hearing on October 20, 2011 in Athens, Tennessee.
“There is no excuse for holding a hearing in Athens rather than Chattanooga or Knoxville—or both,” said Hutchison. “If they wanted public involvement, they would hold the hearings where the most people could attend. If they want to hear from the most heavily affected public, they’ll hold a meeting in Chattanooga. Instead, they’ve demonstrated their disdain for those most affected by scheduling the meeting in Athens.”
more information: Ralph Hutchison 865 776 5050