Public Comment period on NNSA tritium plan open now

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Aug 15, 2014 No Comments ›› orepa

US TO CONTINUE PRODUCING NUCLEAR WEAPONS MATERIALS
IN COMMERCIAL POWER REACTOR IN TENNESSEE
DOWNPLAYS RELEASE OF THOUSANDS OF CURIES OF TRITIUM
TO TENNESSEE RIVER.

The National Nuclear Security Administration has announced its plan to continue making more radioactive tritium for nuclear weapons in the Watts Bar power reactor in Spring City, TN even though it releases more tritium—three to four times more than originally projected—to the Tennessee River.

The NNSA plan is announced in the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for the Production of Tritium in a Commercial Light Water Reactor, released in August 2014. Public hearings on the Draft S-EIS will be held September 9 in Athens, TN, and September 10 in Chattanooga, TN.

The plan continues the US policy of producing nuclear weapons materials in commercial power reactors in violation of a long-standing international policy separating civilian and military uses of nuclear power.

In 1999, the United States gave itself permission to do what had previously been forbidden for all nations—produce nuclear weapons materials in a commercial nuclear power reactor. The US did it with a little verbal sleight-of-tongue, creating a category called “special nuclear material” which would include only plutonium and highly enriched uranium.

The 1999 decision projected a tritium leak rate of 1 curie per year for each tritium-producing rod inserted in the reactor, and decided tritium could be produced in Tennessee Valley Authority reactors at Watts Bar and at Sequoyah—in reality, only Watts Bar Unit 1 has been used, since 2003, to produce tritium for US nuclear warheads.

After production began, the National Nuclear Security Administration discovered that three to four time as much tritium was escaping into the reactor coolant and eventually being discharged into the Tennessee River; in 2011, NNSA announced it would prepare a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement to address the increased tritium releases and also the declining need for tritium.

The result of that process, the Draft S-EIS, analyzes seven alternatives and chooses one “preferred alternative.” Under that alternative, NNSA would irradiate tritium producing rods only in Watts Bar, Unit 1. The total number of rods irradiated per year would not exceed 2,500.

At this level of production, between 7,500 and 10,000 curies of tritium would be released annually to the Tennessee River upstream from the water intake for Chattanooga, Tennessee, and other downstream populations. NNSA has determined this addition of radioactive tritium will cause no significant harm to downstream citizens or to the environment.

The Draft Environmental Impact Statement does not address ongoing concerns about the nonproliferation impacts of the US policy of production of nuclear weapons materials in a commercial power reactor.

Information about the hearings and copies of the Draft S-EIS can be found at http://nnsa.energy.gov/nepa/tritium.seis

WHAT YOU CAN DO

The release of the Draft S-EIS opens a comment period; the NNSA wants to hear what you think of their plans. You can submit written comments or come to a hearing to speak. Or both!

The hearings will be held on Tuesday, September 9, 2014 from 6:00 – 9:00pm at the Southeast Tennessee Trade and Conference Center in Athens, TN and on Wednesday, September 10, 2014 at Chattanooga State Community College Center for Business, Industry and Health Cafeteria, from 6:00 – 9:00pm in Chattanooga, TN.

Each hearing will start with an informal session at 6:00, a DOE/NNSA presentation at 6:30, and public comments beginning at 7:00pm

Writing comments can be submitted by email to:

tritium.readiness.seis@nnsa.doe.gov in care of Mr. Curtis Chambellan.

Comments should be submitted by September 22, 2014.

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