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Senator McCLURE. I don't want to lead you into statements that might lead us into trouble. I don't want any more trouble than we have. But I do want us to understand that if a heavy water reactor is the reactor of choice and I won't resist that choice if that is what you choose, Mr. Secretary—but I do want people to understand that it would require a redesigned fuel in a redesigned plant.
Mr. SALGADO. I am advised that the flow, the cooling flow, obviously, would have to be changed, and I believe the National Academy addressed that. Whether or not the fuel has to be changed is questionable, sir.
Senator MCCLURE. But under the plant design, a meltdown of the fuel could occur.
Mr. SALGADO. Given a scenario of loss of cooling flow, I believe that is correct.
Senator McCLURE. Those fuels, there is nothing that we know today that can meet the safety requirements of the safety codes and verification of safety codes if a meltdown of the fuel should occur?
Mr. WADE. Senator, one of the problems at Savannah River is that the entire class of accidents have not been analyzed, and that is what we are undertaking at the moment. It is thought that given a class IX kind of accident, and because of the current design of the flow in the Savannah River reactors, that you would have a void, that you would get the fuel damage, and you would have some fuel melting. That is the reason that they are powered down to 50 percent, which we believe alleviates that problem, but we cannot confirm it at this point.
Senator McCLURE. Mr. Wade, I think your answer is very careful and very accurate.
I don't mean to misstate or raise fears, but in order to build a new plant, meeting new standards for safety and the new review requirements that will be established on the new plant, you will be required to verify what you cannot now verify. That means the development of safety codes, and it means the verification of those codes. It may, and I stress "may,” because I think you are correct, it doesn't necessarily mean redesign of the fuel, but it may require redesign of the fuel, in the heavy water reactor.
I only say that because I want to stress what Mr. Schoettler said a moment ago, the conclusion of the ERAB panel, that there is very little difference in the timeframe or the difficulty in the design and the verification of design of the competing technologies.
COMPARISON OF COMPETING TECHNOLOGIES
I guess it would be fair to say, would it not, Mr. Schoettler, the conclusion of the panel was that there is very little difference, but I guess I would hazard this much, the liquid metal reactors have much less of the preliminary work done; is that correct?
Mr. SCHOETTLER. Yes; that was the conclusion of the panel.
Senator McCLURE. Therefore, it would require more work to bring the liquid metal reactors to the same state of readiness to move forward as the other candidates.
Mr. SCHOETTLER. There also did not seem to be a very strong proponent of the liquid metal reactor for use as an NPR as opposed to use for a civilian reactor. That was a distinction also that the panel drew.
Senator McCLURE. I think that it is probably fair to say that in that hierarchy, if indeed there is to be one, and I guess that is what you, Mr. Secretary, are going to have to try to determine and sort out, that the light water reactors are probably next least ready, or slightly less ready than the heavy water, or HTGR, in terms of the preliminary work that has been done and the length of time that it would take to verify the work.
Mr. SCHOETTLER. Senator, we did not attempt to rank or compare and contrast the individual technologies. We were not asked to do that. I don't mean to avoid your question, but we were asked to evaluate the benefits and risks of each of those technologies, and the benefits of the light water reactor was that we had over 100 of them operating in this country.
One of the risks involved with it, if we can characterize it as that, is that the target technology had not been developed and it would have to be installed in either the WNP-1 after it were completed, or find a civilian nuclear reactor in which you could test that target technology, which would be very difficult.
The thrust of the ERAB report was not to attempt to really rank the different technologies as much as it was to try and aid the Department of Energy and the Secretary in making judgments as to which would best be suited for the production of tritium.
Senator McClure. I don't suppose you are going to run up to Long Island and test a new target at Shoreham. [Laughter.]
Mr. SCHOETTLER. No; I don't think they would let us.
C REACTOR EMBRITTLEMENT Senator MCCLURE. I have just one question, and let me cede the time to my colleague from South Carolina, and that has to do with what is the central concern I have tried to express, and that is to make certain that our country has production capacity which is available to meet the essential needs of this country at any given time in the future, recognizing that there are uncertainties in whatever we decide to do.
If all four of the Savannah River reactors had been designed as the C Reactor, and all four had been built on the same design and had developed the flaw that has developed in the C Reactor, is it not correct to say they would all be shut down today?
Mr. Salgado. The only difference, I think, would probably be that it is my understanding that embrittlement, because of that unique design, was caused over the long use. L Reactor being 17 years younger, and there is a question of when the neutrons basically are the most intense, but L Reactor will probably have a little longer life.
If they all operate the same amount of time, I think that there is a reasonable assumption that, yes, Senator, they would all be down.
Senator McCLURE. Then we would have the L Reactor operating at half capacity, and we would be down to half a reactor. But we also probably would not have made the decision to close down the N Reactor.
Mr. SALGADO. Not necessarily, because the N Reactor's benefit is on the plutonium side, and basically that is a whole separate demand and supply issue and the life cycles and cost factors involved.
Senator McCLURE. I understand. Thank you very much.
SAFETY OF SAVANNAH RIVER REACTORS
Senator HOLLINGS. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Secretary, we have heard a lot of talk now of closedowns, meltdowns, and high risks, but the fact of the matter is that there is no safety problem really at Savannah River now as you see it; it is a production problem. Is that correct?
Mr. SALGADO. The major concern that we are dealing with is a production problem into the outyears and the quantity of tritium that we have the capability to produce.
Senator HOLLINGS. We are operating at this moment safely at Savannah River.
Mr. SALGADO. We are operating those reactors in a safe and efficient mode; that is correct.
Senator HOLLINGS. We are not about to have a meltdown?
Mr. SaLGADO. Sir, if we were about to have a meltdown, they would not be operating
Senator HOLLINGS. Exactly; we are not about to have a closedown. Mr. SALGADO. There is not to be a closedown.
Senator HOLLINGS. You are not stating the statement of the chamber of commerce?
Mr. SALGADO. I am not stating their statement at all, Senator.
SLÄPPORTING INFRASTRUCTURE AT SAVANNAH RIVER
Senator HOLLINGS. Thank you, Mr. Secretary, because what we have been hearing now is a lot of meltdowns, slowdowns, and statements about closing, and everything else, whereas the truth of the matter is that when you come to the infrastructure, there is no risk at Savannah River with the fuel fabrication plants that prepare the fuel there. That is not a risk factor, that is an advantage of infrastructure, is it not?
Mr. Salgado. That is an advantage of infrastructure if a heavy water reactor is chosen; that is correct.
Senator HOLLINGS. The reprocessing plants at Savannah River, the two large-scale plants there, theyare also an advantage and not a risk.
Mr. SALGADO. That is correct.
Senator HOLLINGS. The full set of waste tanks for storage that is also not a risk, but rather an advantage that we have at Savannah River; isn't that correct?
Mr. Salgado. That is correct.
Senator HOLLINGS. The defense waste processing facility, the waste solidification plant, that, too, is not a risk, that is an advantage that we have at Savannah River: is that correct?
Mr. SALGADO. Yes, Senator.
Senator HOLLINGS. The tritium processing facility that, too, is an advantage and not a risk at Savannah River.
Mr. Salgado. Yes, sir.
Senator HOLLINGS. Mr. Schoettler, that is why the ERAB report recommended Savannah River; isn't that correct?
Mr. SCHOETTLER. That is part of it, Senator. The other aspect of it was the target technology that existed for the HWR.
Senator HOLLINGS. That is what I wanted to get clear because, as I understood the Secretary's initial statement, we are at a critical stage. In 1985 we had five reactors, and we are now down in 3 years to one and one-half reactors. We have heard the testimony that we hope to get a third one producing tritium by the end of the year, but that will only have a marginal supply reliability, and we certainly need another one immediately as I understand it; isn't that correct?
Mr. SALGADO. We need more reactor capacity. Whether it is one or more, we need more reactor capacity.
Senator HOLLINGS. With respect to the matter of the C Reactor, the fact that it developed a flaw, is not in any way connected with the fact that it was at Savannah River; is that right?
Mr. SALGADO. No, sir; it did with an engineering design. I would like to try to clarify the C Reactor, if I could, because that was not a safety issue; I believe it was a design problem.
Senator HOLLINGS. My main interest and point here is that you can put different designs at Savannah River.
Mr. SALGADO. Agreed; yes, sir,
Senator HOLLINGS. In fact, you can put the high-temperature gascooled reactor there, and you would have some advantage, of course, again of experienced personnel and some of the infrastructure.
Senator MCCLURE. Would my colleague yield on that point, because I think the point he has just made is essential to understand, and that is that that infrastructure at Savannah River is usable and has advantages regardless of the technology chosen; is that correct?
Mr. Salgado. That is correct, sir.
Senator HOLLINGS. I am glad my point is made, because I think that you could have the two of them. You can try both of them right there at Savannah River right now with the personnel we have. Then if you have a third one, you can go up to Hanford, but I don't know if the chamber of commerce up there would favor it.
One Senator says "Yes" and one Senator says “No," that is the reason that I made the comment.
Senator MCCLURE. They are not speaking for the chamber of commerce in Hanford.
Senator HOLLINGS. If we had a fourth one, we could put it in Idaho. (Laughter.]
I can't find the word "Idaho" in the National Academy of Sciences report, the Glennan report, or the Schoettler report, but I do find Savannah River, and I do appreciate that very much. Thank you a lot.
Senator MCCLURE. I would also stipulate, if the C Reactor had been built in Idaho Falls, it probably would have developed the same fault.
TIME SCHEDULES FOR HWR AND HTGR TECHNOLOGIES
Senator JOHNSTON. Mr. Schoettler, could you tell me, I may be missing something here. As I read the report, and as I hear you testify, the heavy water and HTGR technologies are about the same in time schedule; is that right?
Mr. SCHOETTLER. Yes. I don't think that we collected time schedules closely enough, Mr. Chairman, to really discriminate between the two of them in terms of overall time. I think that we did make the finding that the HWR, since it has the target technology and has been in use for 34 years, maybe a total of 130 reactor years, that that was an advantage that the HWR had if the judgment was made that we needed tritium production capacity just as soon as possible. I think the finding that we had was that the HWR and perhaps the WNP-1 were the two tracks that would yield tritium production in the quickest timeframe.
Senator JOHNSTON. Say that again, please?
Mr. SCHOETTLER. I think we made the finding that the HWR and/or the WNP-1, the light water reactor at Hanford, the uncompleted light water reactor, that one or the other of those perhaps had the most assurance of going into tritium production somewhat more quickly than the other technologies, but within the timeframe, say, of 10 years, with sufficient R&D, any of the technologies could provide goal quantities of tritium production.
STATUS OF HTGR TECHNOLOGY Senator JOHNSTON. There may or may not be a time advantage for heavy water over the HTGR, but in any event you would feel confident of the HTGR meeting your 10-year time requirement; is that fair?
Mr. SCHOETTLER. I am not sure. I think that the reason that the statement was put into the ERAB report about HWR is that it is an existing technology that has had 34 years of operating experience, maybe 130 cumulative years, and the target technology exists.
It was the opinion of the engineers, the nuclear engineers on the panel and on the Advisory Board, that if you had a technology that was in existence, that had been in production, it was easier to, perhaps, upgrade that technology to an advanced HWR to reach goal quantities of tritium than it was to take a new technology, essentially on paper, although it had a great deal of research, and build a new reactor, and finish the qualification testing, perhaps, necessary for the HTGR target technology.