Three nuclear watchdog organizations—Savannah River Site Watch (Columbia, SC), Snake River Alliance Education Fund (Pocatello, ID) and the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance (Oak Ridge, TN) have filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission seeking information about plans to ship high burn-up commercial spent nuclear fuel from the North Anna power reactor in Virginia to Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
The groups filed the FOIA request after discovering a letter approving a shipping route from North Anna to Oak Ridge. The letter provides little information about the specifics of the route or the timing of the proposed shipment.
“We asked for a map of the route two weeks ago,” said Ralph Hutchison, coordinator of OREPA. “So far, we’ve received nothing. So we are resorting to the formal—and more expensive for the government—FOIA process to get information.”
Tom Clements, director of SRS Watch, filed the FOIA on behalf of the three organizations. The Savannah River Site was initially under consideration for the research project.
The spent nuclear fuel shipment, rejected by Idaho, is part of a two-stage research plan. In the first stage, a small 25-rod shipment would be sent to ORNL. That would be followed by a twenty-ton shipment later.
“The first shipment is the camel’s nose,” said Hutchison. “What most concerns us is the second shipment. This is some of the nastiest waste created by the nuclear industry. And since there is no approved disposal facility or plan, it’s safe to say if it comes to Oak Ridge, it will never leave.”
Beatrice Brailsford, director of the Snake River Alliance’s nuclear program, said the Idaho watchdog group has been tracking this decision for some time. “The state of Idaho has said ‘No,’” said Brailsford. “So the NRC is looking for a path of less resistance. It remains to be seen whether Tennessee officials will protect their people.”
Brailsford notes the overall research proposal includes a similar shipment from the Byron nuclear power station in Illinois—that shipment, if it were allowed to go through, would likely go to the Idaho National Laboratory in Idaho Falls, ID, for research on pyroprocessing, a reprocessing technology.
OREPA’s Hutchison said, “We have other concerns as well. Oak Ridge is already a Superfund site, and there are massive, unfunded cleanup challenges here. To date, we have not been able to find any environmental analysis addressing the risks inherent in shipping and experimenting with spent nuclear fuel from a commercial reactor, especially high burn-up fuel. To bring it to Oak Ridge without an Environmental Impact Statement would be illegal.”