« PrécédentContinuer »
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.
CONVERSION TO TRITIUM PRODUCTION
Senator JOHNSTON. The third reactor, which is producing plutonium, or prepared to produce plutonium, in a pinch, could you convert that to tritium, and if so, how much time would it take and at what cost, roughly?
Mr. SALGADO. There are relatively very little costs involved. It is the same generic design as the other P and K Reactors. When the L Reactor came back on line, Senator, it had been down for approximately 17 years. So, its use time could be as much as 17 years less than the other two reactors.
Senator JOHNSTON. Do you mean 17 years more?
Mr. Salgado. No, less. It was down, it was not operating for 17 years, and it was brought back in the early 1980's when it was demonstrated that we needed more capacity within the system. So it is 17 years younger, if you would say, just in use time.
Essentially, what occurred is a determination in the early 1980's was made to bring it back to produce only plutonium. What would have to occur now would be to go back within the environmental process, I believe either an environmental impact statement or an environmental assessment, to permit it to produce tritium. There are no technical reasons and there are no other additional great burdens.
Senator JOHNSTON. The question is, how much time would it take?
Mr. Wade. We have that under review right now, Senator. We hope, when the reactor comes back on line at the end of this year, at the end of its scheduled outage, that we will have completed the necessary environmental work and we can restart it on a tritium load. So our goal is the end of this year.
Senator JOHNSTON. So you would have three operating on tritium?
Mr. Salgado. Sir, we feel, obviously, that we do need it for two reasons. First of all, in fact, because of these outages that have occurred in them, we would like to maintain some surplus of tritium for future and long-term planning. I think that it is in the best interest, No. 1, to have the capability to go on tritium; and No. 2, to preproduce some tritium in case of any contingencies. As long as the demand on the other side for plutonium allows this approach.
Senator JOHNSTON. Would it have to be operated at 50 percent, too?
Mr. SALGADO. Yes, sir, the same issue addressed for the other reactors is also applicable for the L Reactor.
Senator JOHNSTON. So with the three at 50 percent, you would have some excess capacity?
Mr. SALGADO. Marginal.
Senator JOHNSTON. You would hope, through getting additional data, to be able to go higher than 50 percent?
Mr. SALGADO. That is the projection, and that is at least 1/2 or 2 years out.
Senator JOHNSTON. What I am really trying to get at is, what the constraints are in terms of the emergency. How much time do we have to deal with here?
Mr. SaLGADO. I think the time that we have to deal with is the time it takes, basically, to build a new production reactor and meet the safety and environmental concerns, because I do not believe that the country can afford any delay. We have to move forward aggressively.
REACTOR SITING CONSIDERATIONS
Senator JOHNSTON. Let me ask just a couple more questions, because I don't want to take all the time here. Any of these reactors—the heavy water, the HTGR, et cetera-they can all be built at any of the sites. There is no site specific; is that right?
Mr. SALGADO. Technically, that is correct, Mr. Chairman. I think that the heavy water reactor, because of an infrastructure that has to support that reactor-for example, on the decladding of the fuel and how it functions—there is an additional cost that would have to occur if we were to build a heavy water reactor some place other than Savannah River, because that infrastructure dealing with heavy water type technology and its fuel is already in existence and in place.
If we were to build a high-temperature gas reactor at any of the sites, there would be additional infrastructure that would have to be built around that, and I believe that is a common denominator to all of them.
Senator JOHNSTON. In other words, heavy water would favor Savannah River, and any of the others can be built with equal facility anywhere.
Mr. SaLGADO. Yes, sir.
INHERENTLY SAFE REACTOR TECHNOLOGY
Senator JOHNSTON. I have always felt, and I very strongly feel now, that we ought to be able to develop an inherently safe reactor for our civilian market. I am wondering what risks we would run. As I read your report, it indicates that it is not as mature a technology, might take a little longer, and it might cost more. But your degree of confidence in being able to do it is relatively high; is that correct?
Mr. SALGADO. That is the ERAB report, and that is their basic conclusion. That is correct, sir.
Senator JOHNSTON. How much more time do you expect that it would take?
Mr. Salgado. I would have to deflect that to Mr. Schoettler from the ERAB report.
Mr. SCHOETTLER. All of the timeframes, Mr. Chairman, were in the area of approximately 10 years or slightly less.
Senator JOHNSTON. What do you mean by the timeframes?
Mr. SCHOETTLER. I think the ERAB report concluded that there were varying degrees of additional research and development, particularly on