[Federal Register Volume 69, Number 117 (Friday, June 18, 2004)]
[Notices]
[Pages 34198-34202]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 04-13749]


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NUCLEAR REGULATORY COMMISSION

[Docket No. 70-143]


Nuclear Fuel Services, Inc., Environmental Assessment and Finding 
of No Significant Impact Related to Proposed License Amendment 
Authorizing Operations at the Oxide Conversion Building and the 
Effluent Processing Building at the Blended Low-Enriched Uranium 
Complex

AGENCY: Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

ACTION: Finding of no significant impact and environmental assessment.

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FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Kevin M. Ramsey, Fuel Cycle Facilities 
Branch, Division of Fuel Cycle Safety and Safeguards, Office of Nuclear 
Material Safety and Safeguards, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, 
Mail Stop T-8A33, Washington, DC 20555-0001, telephone (301) 415-7887 
and e-mail kmr@nrc.gov.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

I. Introduction

    The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) staff is considering the 
issuance of an amendment to NRC Materials License SNM-124 to authorize 
processing operations in the Oxide Conversion Building (OCB) and the 
Effluent Processing Building (EPB) at the Blended Low-Enriched Uranium 
Preparation (BLEU) Complex. A notice of receipt and opportunity to 
request a hearing for this action was published in the Federal Register 
on December 24, 2003 (68 FR 74653). The NRC has prepared an 
Environmental Assessment (EA) in support of this action. Based upon the 
EA, the NRC has concluded that a Finding of No Significant Impact 
(FONSI) is appropriate and, therefore, an Environmental Impact 
Statement (EIS) will not be prepared.

II. Environmental Assessment

Background

    The Nuclear Fuel Services (NFS) facility in Erwin, TN is authorized 
under License SNM-124 to manufacture high-enriched nuclear reactor 
fuel. NFS is undertaking the BLEU Project to manufacture low-enriched 
nuclear reactor fuel. NFS is constructing a new complex at the Erwin 
site to house the operations involving low-enriched uranium. On July 
27, 2003, Amendment 39 to License SNM-124 was issued to authorize 
storage of low-enriched uranium in the new complex. This was

[[Page 34199]]

the first of three amendments planned for the BLEU Project.
    On January 13, 2004, Amendment 47 was issued to License SNM-124 to 
authorize downblending operations in the BLEU Preparation Facility. 
This was the second amendment planned for the BLEU Project. These 
operations involve the blending of high-enriched uranium with 
unenriched (natural) uranium to produce low-enriched uranium. Much of 
the downblending will be performed at other facilities, but NFS plans 
to perform some downblending at its facility. The BLEU Preparation 
Facility is located within the older complex because that complex is 
already authorized to handle high-enriched uranium. After the high-
enriched uranium is downblended and converted to a low-enriched uranium 
liquid, it will be transferred from the BLEU Preparation Facility to 
the new complex.
    On October 23, 2003, NFS requested an amendment to authorize 
operations in the remainder of the new BLEU complex (Ref. 5). 
Supplemental information was submitted by letter dated April 30, 2004 
(Ref. 9). This is the third and last amendment planned for the BLEU 
Project. The request includes OCB operations to convert low-enriched, 
uranium liquid to a solid, uranium oxide powder. It also includes EPB 
operations to treat process effluents for disposal.

Review Scope

    The purpose of this EA is to assess the environmental impacts of 
the proposed license amendment. It does not approve the request. This 
EA is limited to the proposed OCB and EPB operations at the BLEU 
Complex and any cumulative impacts on existing plant operations. The 
existing conditions and operations for the Erwin facility were 
evaluated by the NRC for environmental impacts in a 1999 EA related to 
the renewal of the NFS license (Ref. 1) and a 2002 EA related to the 
first amendment for the BLEU Project (Ref. 2). In addition, the 2002 EA 
assessed the impact of the entire BLEU Project (including the proposed 
operations) using information available at that time. This assessment 
presents up-to-date information and analysis for determining that 
issuance of a FONSI is appropriate and that an EIS will not be 
prepared.

Proposed Action

    The proposed action is to amend NRC Materials License SNM-124 to 
authorize processing operations in the OCB and EPB. The buildings are 
being constructed within the new BLEU Complex at the NFS site. The 
operations will convert low-enriched, uranium liquid to a solid, 
uranium oxide powder. The uranium oxide powder will be shipped to 
another facility for fabrication of fuel for a commercial power 
reactor. The duration of the project is approximately five years. The 
proposed action in the amendment request is consistent with the 
proposed action previously assessed in the 2002 EA (Ref. 2).
    The OCB operations are composed of four processes--the Feed Batch 
Make-Up Process, Uranium Precipitation Process, Oxide Production 
Process, and Uranium Recovery Process.
     The Feed Batch Make-Up Process involves the transfer of 
uranyl nitrate solution from the Uranyl Nitrate Building to a blend 
tank in the OCB. If there is any solution available from the Uranium 
Recovery Process, it is added also. After the solution is mixed, it is 
fed to the Uranium Precipitation Process.
     The Uranium Precipitation Process involves the heating and 
mixing of uranyl nitrate with ammonium hydroxide. This forms ammonium 
diuranate (ADU) precipitate. The ADU slurry is pumped to a centrifuge 
feed tank where the pH is adjusted. Then, the slurry is fed to a 
centrifuge where the solid ADU is separated from the liquid.
     The Oxide Production Process involves the drying of ADU 
solids in a dryer. Then, the solids are fed to a calciner (i.e., rotary 
kiln) where hydrogen is used to reduce the ADU solids to uranium oxide 
powder. The powder is fed to a blender hopper where it is mixed and 
loaded into shipping pails.
     The Uranium Recovery Process involves the treatment of the 
liquid centrate from the centrifuge with filters and ion exchange resin 
to remove residual uranium from the liquid. The uranium is returned to 
the process and the remaining liquid is sent to the EPB. In addition, 
the Uranium Recovery Process has a dissolution system where off-
specification uranium oxide powder is dissolved in nitric acid to form 
a uranyl nitrate solution. This solution is returned to the Feed Batch 
Make-Up Process.
    The EPB operations are composed of three processes--the Ammonia 
Recovery Process, the Liquid Waste Treatment Process, and the Waste 
Solidification Process.
     The Ammonia Recovery Process involves the mixing of 
ammonium nitrate waste solution with sodium hydroxide to form ammonium 
hydroxide and sodium nitrate. The solution is heated and sent to a 
stripping column. In the stripping column, steam is used to generate 
ammonia vapor which is sent to a condenser. The condensed distillate is 
an ammonium hydroxide solution which is returned to the OCB for reuse. 
The stripping column bottoms are composed of a sodium nitrate solution 
which is sent to the Liquid Waste Treatment Process.
     The Liquid Waste Treatment Process involves the 
concentration of sodium nitrate waste in an evaporator. The water vapor 
from the evaporator is condensed, sampled, and discharged to the 
sanitary sewer. The evaporator bottoms are sent to the Waste 
Solidification Process.
     The Waste Solidification Process involves the mixing of 
evaporator bottoms with clay and cement. The mixture is cured and 
shipped to a licensed disposal facility.

Need for Proposed Action

    Framatome ANP Inc. has contracted with NFS to downblend surplus 
high-enriched uranium material to a low-enriched uranium product. The 
NFS product is expected to be converted to commercial reactor fuel for 
a Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) nuclear power reactor; however, the 
NFS proposed action is limited to the production of low-enriched, 
uranium oxide powder as feed material for Framatome. The BLEU Project 
is part of a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) program to reduce 
stockpiles of surplus high-enriched uranium through re-use or disposal 
as radioactive waste. Re-use is considered the favorable option by the 
DOE because: (1) Weapons grade material is converted to a form 
unsuitable for nuclear weapons (addressing a proliferation concern); 
(2) the product can be used for peaceful purposes; and (3) the 
commercial value of the surplus material can be recovered (Ref. 3). An 
additional benefit of re-use is to avoid unnecessary use of limited 
radioactive waste disposal space.

Alternatives

    The alternatives available to NRC are:
    1. Approve the license amendment as described; or
    2. No action (i.e., deny the request).
    Other alternatives to the proposed action are addressed in the DOE 
Environmental Impact Statement (Ref. 3) and are not re-analyzed in this 
EA.

Affected Environment

    The affected environment for the proposed action and the 
alternative is the NFS site. The affected environment is identical to 
the affected environment assessed in the 2002 EA related to the first 
amendment for the BLEU Project

[[Page 34200]]

(Ref. 2). A full description of the site and its characteristics is 
given in the 2002 EA. Additional information can be found in the 1999 
EA related to the renewal of the NFS license (Ref. 1). The NFS facility 
is located in Unicoi County, Tennessee, about 32 km (20 mi) southwest 
of Johnson City, Tennessee. The plant is about 0.8 km (0.5 mi) 
southwest of the Erwin city limits. The site occupies about 28 hectares 
(70 acres). The site is bounded to the northwest by the CSX Corporation 
(CSX) railroad property and the Nolichucky River, and by Martin Creek 
to the northeast. The plant elevation is about 9 m (30 ft) above the 
nearest point on the Nolichucky River.
    The area adjacent to the site consists primarily of residential, 
industrial, and commercial areas, with a limited amount of farming to 
the northwest. Privately owned residences are located to the east and 
south of the facility. Tract size is relatively large, leading to a low 
housing density in the areas adjacent to the facility. The CSX railroad 
right-of-way is parallel to the western boundary of the site. 
Industrial development is located adjacent to the railroad on the 
opposite side of the right-of-way. The site is bounded by Martin Creek 
to the north, with privately owned, vacant property and low-density 
residences.

Effluent Releases and Monitoring

    A full description of the effluent monitoring program at the site 
is provided in a 2002 EA related to the first amendment for the BLEU 
Project (Ref. 2). Additional information is available in the 1999 EA 
related to the renewal of the NFS license (Ref. 1). The NFS Erwin Plant 
conducts effluent and environmental monitoring programs to evaluate 
potential public health impacts and comply with the NRC effluent and 
environmental monitoring requirements. The effluent program monitors 
the airborne, liquid, and solid waste streams produced during operation 
of the NFS Plant. The environmental program monitors the air, surface 
water, sediment, soil, groundwater, and vegetation in and around the 
NFS Plant.
    During the review of the amendment request (Ref. 5), NRC discovered 
that the stack constructed for the OCB was in a different location than 
shown in the Supplemental Environmental Report submitted by NFS in 2001 
(Ref. 6). NFS confirmed that the location and height of the as-built 
stacks differ slightly from the descriptions provided previously. 
However, NFS stated that the differences do not change the results of 
the radiological and chemical consequence analyses (Ref. 9). The NRC 
agrees.
    Airborne, liquid, and solid effluent streams that contain 
radioactive material are generated at the NFS Plant and monitored to 
ensure compliance with NRC regulations in 10 CFR Part 20. Each effluent 
is monitored at or just before the point of release. The results of 
effluent monitoring are reported on a semi-annual basis to the NRC in 
accordance with 10 CFR 70.59.
    Airborne and liquid effluents are also monitored for 
nonradiological constituents in accordance with State discharge 
permits. For the purpose of this EA, the State of Tennessee is expected 
to set limits on effluents under its regulatory control that are 
protective of health and safety and the local environment. A new sewer 
pretreatment permit was issued to NFS by Erwin Utilities on August 26, 
2003 (Ref. 9).

Environmental Impacts of Proposed Action

    A full description of the environmental impacts of the proposed 
action is provided in a 2002 EA related to the first amendment for the 
BLEU Project (Ref. 2). The environmental impacts of the proposed action 
are consistent with the impacts in the 2002 EA.
1. Normal Operations
    For the proposed action, construction and processing operations 
will result in the release of low levels of chemical and radioactive 
constituents to the environment. Based on the information provided by 
NFS, the safety controls to be employed for the proposed action appear 
to be sufficient to ensure planned operations will have no significant 
impact on the environment.
    Radiological Impacts: For normal operations, the effluent air 
emissions from the OCB and the EPB will be discharged through new 
stacks at each building. Liquid effluents will be discharged to the 
sanitary sewer. While effluents from the proposed action will increase 
in relation to current releases, the total annual dose estimate for the 
maximally exposed individual from all planned effluents is less than 
0.01 milliseivert (mSv) or 1 millirem (mrem). This result is well below 
the annual public dose limit of 1 mSv (100 mrem) in 10 CFR 20.1301, and 
the constraint on air emissions to the environment of 0.1 mSv (10 mrem) 
in 10 CFR 20.1101. OCB and EPB operations are not expected to increase 
the dose to workers at the NFS facility because the types and quantity 
of material, and the processing, will be similar to what is already 
licensed at the site. Surface water quality at the NFS site is 
currently protected by enforcing release limits and monitoring 
programs. No significant change in surface water impacts is expected 
from OCB and EPB operations. The proposed action will not discharge any 
effluents to the groundwater; therefore, no adverse impacts to 
groundwater are expected.
    The proposed action involves transportation of radioactive feed 
material to the NFS site and transportation of radioactive waste 
material from the NFS site. All transportation will be conducted in 
accordance with the applicable NRC and U.S. Department of 
Transportation regulations; therefore, no adverse impacts from 
transportation activities are expected.
    Land Use: OCB and EPB operations will be conducted in new buildings 
constructed on NFS-owned property that has been disturbed previously. 
The developed area will increase from approximately 75 to 80 percent of 
69.9 acres. No adverse impact to land use is expected.
    Cultural Resources: There are no National Register or Historic 
Places listed or eligible properties affected by the proposed action. 
No adverse impact to cultural resources is expected.
    Biotic Resources: For biotic resources, a vacant and previously 
disturbed field containing no critical habitat will be used. The only 
Federally endangered species in Unicoi County is the Appalachian elktoe 
mussel (Alasmidonta raveneliana) near the confluence of the Nolichucky 
River and South Indian Creek. This location is upstream of the NFS site 
and, therefore, the NRC finds the proposed action is not likely to 
affect the species. The only Federally threatened species in Unicoi 
County are the small whorled pagonia (Isotria medeoloides) and the 
Virginia spiraea (Spiraea virginiana). A field investigation was 
conducted in 2002 and neither of these species was found to be present 
on the site of the proposed action. Therefore, the NRC finds the 
proposed action is not likely to affect either of these species.
2. Potential Accidents
    Under accident conditions, higher concentrations of materials could 
be released to the environment over a short period of time. An 
evaluation of potential accidents is provided in section 5.1.2 of the 
2002 EA (Ref. 2). In addition, detailed accident analyses have been 
performed by NFS in an integrated safety assessment (ISA). The NRC's 
detailed review of the ISA is ongoing, however preliminary findings 
indicate that the potential accidents

[[Page 34201]]

identified in the ISA are consistent with the previous evaluation. NRC 
finds that the safety controls to be employed in the proposed action 
appear sufficient to ensure planned processing will be safe.
3. Cumulative Impacts
    An evaluation of cumulative impacts is provided in section 5.1.3 of 
the 2002 EA (Ref. 2). The evaluation considers the impacts of the 
proposed action with the known impacts of the existing facility. After 
reviewing the updated information provided by NFS, the NRC concludes 
that the cumulative impacts represent an insignificant change to the 
existing conditions in the area surrounding the NFS site.

Environmental Impacts of No Action Alternative

    Under the no action alternative, NFS would not be able to carry out 
its contract obligations to produce a commercial product from U.S. 
Government surplus, weapons-usable, high-enriched uranium. Failure to 
fulfill its role in the DOE program could cause DOE to select other 
alternatives for disposition of the surplus material that may be less 
cost effective and incur greater environmental impacts. For example, 
the disposal option would incur additional costs and consume available 
disposal space that may be better utilized for non-reusable wastes. If 
NFS were not able to fulfill its contract, DOE may transfer the work to 
other facilities.
    Based on its review, the NRC has concluded that the environmental 
impacts associated with the proposed action are insignificant and, 
therefore, do not warrant denial of the proposed license amendment. The 
NRC has determined that the proposed action, approval of the license 
amendment as described, is the appropriate alternative for selection. 
Based on an evaluation of the environmental impacts of the proposed 
license amendment, the NRC has determined that the proper action is to 
issue a FONSI in the Federal Register.

Agencies and Persons Contacted

    On May 31, 2002, the NRC staff contacted the Director of the 
Division of Radiological Health in the Tennessee Department of 
Environment and Conservation (TDEC) concerning the 2002 EA (Ref. 2) and 
the potential impact of the BLEU Project on the environment. Upon 
conclusion of the consultation process, TDEC had no remaining concerns 
about potential environmental impacts. On March 12, 2004, the NRC staff 
contacted the Director of the TDEC Division of Radiological Health 
concerning the revised environmental impacts in this EA. On April 12, 
2004, the Director responded that they had reviewed the draft EA and 
had no comments (Ref. 7).
    On May 22, 2002, the NRC staff contacted the Tennessee Historical 
Commission (THC), Division of Archeology concerning the 2002 EA (Ref. 
2) and the potential affect of the BLEU Project on cultural resources. 
The consultation concluded that no cultural resources would be affected 
by the proposed action. On March 11, 2004, the NRC staff contacted the 
THC concerning the revised environmental impacts in this EA. On March 
22, 2004, the THC responded that they had reviewed the draft EA and had 
no comments (Ref. 8).
    On June 6, 2002, the NRC staff contacted the Fish and Wildlife 
Service (FWS) concerning the 2002 EA (Ref. 2) and the potential affect 
of the BLEU Project on endangered species. The consultation concluded 
that no endangered species would be affected by the proposed action. On 
March 8, 2004, the NRC staff contacted the FWS concerning the revised 
environmental impacts in this EA. On April 8, 2004, the FWS responded 
that they had reviewed the draft EA and requested that NRC clarify the 
finding in the 2002 EA that the proposed action is not likely to affect 
any endangered or threatened species in the area. On April 27, 2004, 
NRC provided a revised EA with requested finding. On May 11, 2004, FWS 
responded that it concurred with the finding.

References

    1. U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, ``Environmental 
Assessment for Renewal of Special Nuclear Material License No. SNM-
124,'' January 1999, ADAMS No. ML031150418.
    2. U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, ``Environmental 
Assessment for Proposed License Amendments to Special Nuclear 
Material License No. SNM-124 Regarding Downblending and Oxide 
Conversion of Surplus High-Enriched Uranium,'' June 2002, ADAMS No. 
ML021790068.
    3. U.S. Department of Energy, ``Disposition of Surplus High 
Enriched Uranium Final Environmental Impact Statement,'' DOE/EIS-
0240, Volume 1, June 1996. This document is available to the public 
from the National Technical Information Service, 5285 Port Royal 
Road, Springfield, VA 22161.
    4. U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, ``Environmental 
Assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact for the BLEU 
Preparation Facility,'' September 2003, ADAMS No. ML032390428.
    5. B. M. Moore, Nuclear Fuel Services, Inc., Letter to U.S. 
Nuclear Regulatory Commission, ``License Amendment Request for the 
Oxide Conversion Building and the Effluent Processing Building at 
the BLEU Complex,'' October 23, 2003, ADAMS No. ML033420637.
    6. B. M. Moore, Nuclear Fuel Services, Inc., Letter to U.S. 
Nuclear Regulatory Commission, ``Supplemental Environmental Report 
for Licensing Actions to Support the BLEU Project,'' November 9, 
2001, ADAMS No. ML013330459.
    7. D. Shults, Tennessee Division of Radiological Health, E-mail 
to K. Ramsey, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, ``Consultation on 
Environmental Assessment for Nuclear Fuel Services,'' April 12, 
2004, ADAMS No. ML041050007.
    8. H. Harper, Tennessee Historical Commission, Letter to K. 
Ramsey, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, ``NRC, BLEU Project/
Nuclear Fuel Services, Erwin, Unicoi County,'' March 22, 2004, ADAMS 
No. ML040930253.
    9. B. M. Moore, Nuclear Fuel Services, Inc., Letter to U.S. 
Nuclear Regulatory Commission, ``NFS Response to Request for 
Additional Information for Oxide Conversion Building and Effluent 
Processing Building at the BLEU Complex,'' April 30, 2004, ADAMS No. 
ML041280552.
    10. L. Barclay, U.S. Department of Interior, Fish and Wildlife 
Service, Letter to U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, May 11, 2004, 
ADAMS No. ML041450299.

III. Final Finding of No Significant Impact

    Pursuant to 10 CFR part 51, the NRC staff has considered the 
environmental consequences of amending NRC Materials License SNM-124 to 
authorize operations in the OCB and EPB. On the basis of this 
assessment, the Commission has concluded that environmental impacts 
associated with the proposed action would not be significant and the 
Commission is making a finding of no significant impact. Accordingly, 
the preparation of an EIS is not warranted.

IV. Further Information

    For further details, see the references listed above. Unless 
otherwise noted, documents may be examined, and/or copied for a fee, at 
the NRC's Public Document Room (PDR), located at One White Flint North, 
Room O-1F21, 11555 Rockville Pike, Rockville, Maryland. In addition, 
documents related to this proposed action will be available 
electronically for public inspection from the NRC Agencywide Documents 
Access and Management System (ADAMS). ADAMS is accessible from the NRC 
Web site at http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/adams.html (the Public 
Electronic Reading Room). Persons who do not have access to ADAMS, or 
who encounter problems accessing documents in ADAMS, should contact the 
PDR reference staff at (800) 397-4209 or (301) 415-4737, or by e-mail 
to pdr@nrc.gov.


[[Page 34202]]


    Dated at Rockville, Maryland, this 14th day of June, 2004.

    For the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Gary S. Janosko,
Chief, Fuel Cycle Facilities Branch, Division of Fuel Cycle Safety and 
Safeguards, Office of Nuclear Material Safety and Safeguards.
[FR Doc. 04-13749 Filed 6-17-04; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 7590-01-P