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RELATED MATTERS AS THE SECRETARY OF ENERGY MOVES TOWARD HIS
DECISIONS ON THE NPR.
THE DOD HAS ESTABLISHED THE REQUIREMENT THAT THIS COUNTRY
MUST HAVE A SAFE AND ASSURED SOURCE OF TRITIUM FOR THE
FORESEEABLE FUTURE. FOR THE PAST 40 YEARS, NUCLEAR WEAPONS
HAVE BEEN A PRIMARY ELEMENT IN THIS NATION'S STRATEGY OF
DETERRENCE. ALTHOUGH THE CAPABILITY OF CONVENTIONAL WEAPONS
CONTINUES TO BE IMPROVED, NUCLEAR WEAPONS ** REMAIN ESSENTIAL
for the toris seeable future TO OUR NATIONAL WELL-BEING. THE DEFENSE DEPARTMENT CONTINUES
TO WORK WITH DOE TO IDENTIFY AND MAINTAIN THE STOCKFILE
QUANTITIES CONSISTENT WITH OUR PLANNED NATIONAL STRATEGIES AND
NEEDS. THE CONTINUING EFFECTIVENESS OF THE NATION'S NUCLEAR
STOCKPILE IS DEPENDENT UPON DOE'S CAPABILITY TO PRODUCE
TRITIUM. THE SHORT HALF-LIFE OF THIS CRITICAL ELEMENT DICTATES
THE NEED FOR A CONTINUOUS AND RELIABLE SUPPLY.
WE ARE AWARE THAT THE DOE HAS UNDER REVIEW AN ARRAY OF
ALTERNATIVE COMBINATIONS OF REACTOR TECHNOLOGIES AND SITES.
WERE IT DOE'S JUDGMENT THAT THEY ARE REQUIRED TO CONSTRUCT MORE
THAN ONE REACTOR TO ENSURE RELIABILITY IN TRITIUM PRODUCTION,
THE DEFENSE DEPARTMENT IS PREPARED TO SERIOUSLY CONSIDER THAT
THROUGHOUT THIS PROCESS, DOD HAS ENDORSED THE PRINCIPLE
THAT THE COSTS OF TRITIUM PRODUCTION CAPABILITY SHOULD BE
MINIMIZED CONSISTENT WITH SAFETY AND RELIABILITY OF SUPPLY.
THE IMPORTANCE OF MOVING EXPEDITIOUSLY TOWARD ESTABLISHING A
NEW PRODUCTION CAPABILITY MUST NOT BE OVERLOOKED. BECAUSE OF
THE MANY UNCERTAINTIES AND COMPLEXITIES INVOLVED, THIS NATION
HAS POSTPONED THOSE VITAL STEPS NOW BEING TAKEN BY DOE TO
REPLACE OUR AGING AND REDUCED-CAPACITY PRODUCTION REACTORS. WE
NEED TO COMPLETE THOROUGH, BUT TIMELY, PLANNING, PROGRAMMING
AND BUDGETING ACTIVITIES FOR THE NPR AS A MATTER OF HIGH
IN CLOSING, LET ME STATE THAT THE DOD IS FULLY SUPPORTIVE
OF THIS IMPORTANT DOE ENDEAVOR AND IS APPRECIATIVE OF THE
CONTINUING SUPPORT AND BIPARTISAN COOPERATIVE LEADERSHIP OF THE
CONGRESS IN MOVING TO RESTORE AN ASSURED SUPPLY OF THE
MATERIALS CRUCIAL TO THE NATIONAL SECURITY OF THIS NATION.
Senator JOHNSTON. Mr. Wade.
Mr. Wade. I do not have a statement, Mr. Chairman. I am just prepared to respond to questions.
Senator JOHNSTON. That is fine, because the questions are the most important part anyway.
Thank you very much gentlemen.
RISKS ASSOCIATED WITH EXISTING PRODUCTION REACTORS Mr. Salgado, first of all, let me understand what the risks are with respect to our present reactors at Savannah River. They are aged. They are operating now at 50 percent of capacity.
What are the risks? They are not the same as the N Reactor with no containment facilities, are they? Is that the kind of risk we are talking about?
Mr. SALGADO. There are several issues, Mr. Chairman.
No. 1, they do not have containment either, such as the N Reactor, being built 34 years ago. They have a confinement system, which has been reviewed both by independent bodies of the National Academy of Sciences and is currently being, I believe, reviewed by Mr. Ahearne's group.
The other component here is that when the National Academy of Sciences did a review of the heavy water reactors at Savannah River, they determined that the data base of those reactors, what they were operating on, was insufficient to support those operating power levels. In an abundance of caution, those power levels were reduced to 50 percent power.
So, currently, at this particular time, they are operating at 50-percent power, and what is known as the PRA, a probalistic risk assessment, is currently taking place to determine the correct power levels or to substantiate those existing power levels that we were operating at now. This computer data base analysis is currently undertaken now to establish power levels.
Also, there are ongoing safety reviews of those particular reactors, both in the seismic area and other emergency core cooling systems. So, there is an ongoing review of these reactors to ensure that they are meeting all potential safety features that they can meet due to their age and any upgrades that are needed to maintain the activities. They are fragile in nature and there are many costs involved to maintain these.
Senator JOHNSTON. When you say that they are fragile, does that mean that we face the real danger of a meltdown, or is it fragile in that you might have to turn them off, or both?
Mr. Salgado. Sir, when I say “fragile,” I mean the ability to keep operating these for another 10 to 15 or 20 years, and to postpone a new production reactor is unwise. When I say that they are fragile, they have operated for 34 years, and if we started building a new production reactor today--that is a 10-year leadtime—it means those reactors are going to have to operate for 44 years. I believe that in the commercial world, the life expectancy for reactors is something like 20 to 30 years.
Senator JOHNSTON. I am trying to get at what is the risk of operating these reactors. I mean, it looks to me like you are going to have to operate them another 10 years anyway.
Mr. SaLGADO. I think that there is a risk.
Mr. Salgado. The risk that those reactors, for any particular reason, will not be able to continue to operate.
Senator JOHNSTON. The risk is one of not being able further to operate over a period of time, and not of safety, or is it both?
Mr. SALGADO. As far as we are concerned, in the Department, ongoing safety analyses are taking place, and the fact of the matter is that although they do not meet current standards, they are safe to operate. The risk is that we will not be able to continue to operate them for the long period of time for a new production reactor to come on line.
SAFETY PROBLEMS BEING ADDRESSED
Senator JOHNSTON. So you see no safety problem.
Mr. SALGADO. There are safety problems there, Mr. Chairman. There are ongoing safety problems.
Senator JOHNSTON. What are those safety problems?
Mr. SALGADO. I could ask Mr. Wade to enunciate more clearly some of them. Some of them have been in the seismic area, one of the emergency core cooling systems was not currently braced for appropriate seismic standards. There is an ongoing effort as to the emergency core cooling system in the testing of the fourth loop on the L Reactor, I believe. Mr. Wade may be able to enunciate some additional things that we are looking at.
Senator JOHNSTON. Yes, would you explain?
Mr. Wade. Mr. Chairman, the National Academy of Sciences review confirmed our concern about the operating of the emergency core cooling system at maximum power levels. Until we can satisfy both ourselves and the National Academy, through Mr. Ahearne's committee, that we can return to power levels, we are running at 50-percent power. We are adding, as the reactors are down for routine maintenance, a fourth emergency core cooling system loop which will help alleviate that problem.
In addition to the concerns about emergency core cooling, we have done some things to increase the seismic safety of the plants to conform to today's standards. Fire protection has been a concern, and operator training systems has been another concern.
We do not, at this point in time, know of anything in a generic sense that would cause us to not be able to operate those plants. But as Deputy Secretary Salgado said, they are 34 years old now. We are going to have to run them for another decade at least. They are not unsafe to run, Senator. The risk is their ability to supply the nation's need of tritium. In my mind that is the biggest risk.
Senator JOHNSTON. That really is the ultimate question. You see no safety problem here; essentially, it is a problem of perhaps having to shut them down because of inability to run them safely. But you would see that safety problem coming and would be able to anticipate it by either reducing power or shutting them down. Is that what you are saying?
REDUCTION IN POWER Mr. Wade. Yes, sir. We have reduced them in power to assure that we do not have a safety problem. We have increased our level of conservatism and safety by reducing the power to 50 percent. It is our hope that we can ascend in power over the next couple of years, but they are not unsafe reactors.
Senator JOHNSTON. All right, I am glad to know that.
Now you have one reactor, of the four at Savannah River, that is making tritiurn, and three that are making plutonium; is that right?
Mr. SALGADO. No, sir.
Mr. SALGADO. Actually, the L Reactor has a plutonium load and the P and the K Reactors are on tritium. The C Reactor is no longer functioning because of the unique configuration of the vessel. C Reactor is down and will not be repaired in the foreseeable future. So there are two reactors on tritium at 50-percent power, and one reactor has the capability for plutonium production at 50-percent power.
Senator McCLURE. We should add at that point that the fourth one is closed down because of a safety defect.
Mr. SALGADO. The C Reactor, because of cracking in the vessel, and the configuration of that vessel, is down, and there is no known means to repair that at this particular time. So three reactors is our capability, and they are at 50-percent power, sir.
Senator JOHNSTON. You say that you hope you can increase that power from 50 percent.
Mr. SALGADO. Yes, sir.
Senator JOHNSTON. What would you do to increase it from 50 percent?
Mr. SALGADO. The database, the underlying models to be utilized, what they call the PRA's, the probabilistic risk assessments, have to take place in order to satisfy an independent body, as well as ourselves, that the power levels are well documented, and the conservative margin of safety is documented.
What has happened is that when an analysis was done by the National Academy of Sciences of those three reactors that are operating, they said that the data that you are utilizing to support those power levels is insufficient. They didn't say that we are operating them unsafely; they just said that there were insufficient data to support those power levels, and in an abundance of caution they were reduced in power.