DOE agency signs off on enviro review of tritium production at TVA

The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a separately organized agency within the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), said in a June 22 Federal Register notice that it is issuing a Record of Decision (ROD) for the Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for the Production of Tritium in a Commercial Light Water Reactor issued on March 4, 2016.

NNSA prepared the CLWR SEIS to update the environmental analyses in a 1999 Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Production of Tritium in a Commercial Light Water Reactor.

The CLWR SEIS provides analysis of the potential environmental impacts from Tritium Producing Burnable Absorber Rod (TPBAR) irradiation based on a conservative estimate of the tritium permeation rate through the TPBAR cladding, NNSA’s revised estimate of the maximum number of TPBARs necessary to support the current and projected future tritium supply requirements, and a maximum production scenario of irradiating no more than a total of 5,000 TPBARs every 18 months.

NNSA has decided to implement the Preferred Alternative, which is Alternative 6, which allows for the irradiation of up to a total of 5,000 TPBARs every 18 months using Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) reactors at both the Watts Bar and Sequoyah nuclear power plant sites. Although near-term tritium requirements could likely be met with the irradiation of 2,500 TPBARs every 18 months, this decision provides the greatest flexibility to meet potential future needs that could arise from various plausible but unexpected events. The exact number of TPBARs to be irradiated during any 18-month reactor core cycle will be determined by both national security requirements and TVA reactor availability.

The CLWR SEIS analyses indicate that there would not be any significant increase in radiation exposure associated with TPBAR irradiation for facility workers or the public.

U.S. strategic nuclear systems are based on designs that use tritium gas. Because tritium decays at a rate of about 5.5% per year, periodic replacement is required as long as the U. S. relies on a nuclear deterrent. The nation, therefore, requires a reliable source of tritium to maintain its nuclear weapons stockpile. Since completion of a 1999 EIS, the projected need for tritium has decreased. Near-term tritium requirements are more likely to be met with the irradiation of 2,500 TPBARs, but this does not exclude the possibility that various potential future events could necessitate increasing TPBAR irradiation, including but not limited to changes in the NNSA’s requirements for tritium, or to compensate for a prolonged reactor outage.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.