« PrécédentContinuer »
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 112 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 the target technology for the advanced reactors that had to take place, but the overall timeframes did not vary particularly. If you did go to modularity or to smaller sizes, there was a thought that there could be an incremental production of the modular type reactors where some would begin to come on line or into production prior to others.
If the HTGR were used to produce full goal quantities of tritium for U.S. needs, there would, perhaps, be as many as eight of the modular HTGR's in two separate four-group blocks. The initial ones as they were produced and put on stream could begin producing tritium, so you wouldn't have to wait 10 or 12 years to get all eight to produce tritium, you could begin, perhaps, as early as 7, 8, or 9 years from the time the decision was made.
BENEFITS TO NUCLEAR POWER PRODUCTION
Senator JOHNSTON. I am taking too long here, so I am going to give up the floor, except to say that I am expressing a desire for an inherently safe technology to be developed out of this, if possible. I mean not at all to prefer one site over the other, and I want to say that for my friend from South Carolina, because I don't want to have to bear the burden of that argument in trying to build an inherently safe reactor.
We need, in my view, to go to nuclear energy. We are having global warming hearings in the Energy Committee right now, and that is one of the obvious conclusions that comes up, that you need to go to nuclear energy. The light water reactors, while they have a very good safety record, are not perceived as being safe, and the regulatory scheme is such that they can't be built quickly enough because of the safety problems.
So, if we can develop an inherently safe reactor, I think that we ought to do it. It would be worth it to do it, but I don't, as I said, prefer one site over the other in trying to solve the energy problems of the country.
FUTURE DIRECTION OF PRODUCTION TECHNOLOGIES
Senator MCCLURE. Thank you very much.
I have a number of questions, and I will try to ask what I think are the most important ones first, and then yield to my friend from South Carolina so that he can ask some questions, too, in the time that we have available. I hope I don't overlook some of the more important questions in trying to fit it within the timeframe.
I, again, want to express my thanks to each of you for your willingness to be here and to participate in this process. But I don't really want to dwell on the question of the current safety of the Savannah River reactors, because I think that it is essential to understand that the production at Savannah River reactors is currently absolutely essential to the security of this country. I don't want the President of the United States, this one or any future one, to have to compromise public safety in order to meet national security goals.
I don't want to either understate or brush aside the very legitimate concerns that many have suggested with respect to the operation of the Savannah River plants today, but rather than dwell upon the past and where that leaves us today, I want to concentrate for a moment on what that should tell us our direction should be toward the future.
There is a timelag. We are stuck with the condition we have now. We can't escape that, because there is a timelag to come to the replacement. I don't even want to go back over the decision that was made a few years ago not to go forward with the NPR, because I think everybody now knows we should. There is no debate on that issue. So the question is how to go about it, rather than whether or not we should do it.
One of the problems I have that grows out of this discussion is to try to make certain that people understand that my goal isn't simply to get a reactor built in Idaho. I keep getting that from my friend from South Carolina, and it just isn't true. I want this country to build essential facilities for the security of this country in the best possible way. If that happens to fit in Idaho, fine, I would welcome it, so would everyone I know of in Idaho, except the few who are against anything that is nuclear, and there are some who are against anything that is nuclear.
HEAVY WATER REACTOR DESIGN IMPROVEMENTS
In that context, we ought to look not as a criticism of the current reactors, or a criticism of heavy water reactors, because I don't want to be understood as opposing heavy waier reactors. I do want to be understood, however, that there are some real questions in the choice of technology. I think that it is fair to say that before you can move forward on a new heavy water reactor, you would have to do things that haven't been done with respect to the current heavy water reactors.
Mr. Schoettler, is that not correct?
Mr. SCHOETTLER. Yes. I think that the National Academy report pointed out either design flaws or safety problems with those reactors, as you observe, and now having identified those safety issues, it is my understanding that they are being addressed by computer analysis in the hopes that they could be overcome in the design for a new or advanced HWR.
VRC REVIEW Senator McClure. It may well be that the building of reactors to meet the nation's security requirements, the materials requirements for our weapon stockpile, that we will not subject those plants to NRC review. I don't know what that decision will ultimately be, but they are going to either go through an NRC review, or something that parallels an NRC review. Is there any disagreement among anybody on this panel with that statement?
Mr. SALGADO. The Department's position is that given the creation of the new Nuclear Safety Board, which will be enacted with the signing of the defense authorization bill, that that is an independent body appointed by the President, and confirmed by Congress, and will probably be the Board upon which are the dynamics of safety, so we will use that Board.
Senator McClure. But they will likely establish similar standards and similar processes to that which have been established by NRC; is that not correct?
Mr. SALGADO. We would hope so.
Senator McCLURE. We are not anticipating that somehow, because these are government operated for weapons production, that they are going to be permitted to operate with less safety in mind than NRC requires for commercial reactors.
Mr. SALGADO. That is correct, Senator.
Senator McClure. We need to be right up front in this process of saying to the American public that that is what we expect will happen with an NPR program.
Mr. SALGADO. That is correct.
Senator McClure. In that process, NRC identifies various levels of consequences of various kinds of accidents. NRC has established varioưs classes of potential accidents that might occur. I think that it is safe to say that the current reactors at Savannah River would not meet those kinds of safety reviews. Therefore, it is impossible for us to hypothesize simply building new heavy water reactors of the type and design that are now operating at Savannah River. Is there any disagreement with that statement?
If that is true, then, the reactors that will be built for new production capacity will be new designs. They will be updated designs. They will be unlike anything that is built today in several very important aspects.
Let's take, for example, the fuels that are loaded at Savannah River today would not meet the requirements of a class IX accident under NRC standards; is that correct?
Mr. Salgado. That I am not quite sure.
Senator McCLURE. A meltdown would occur of those fuels, not a meltdown of the plant. I am not talking about China syndrome; I am talking about the meltdown of the fuel elements because of the rapid heat excursion under a class IX accident.
Mr. SALGADO. I can get that for the record. Mr. Bunch indicates that it is one of the things that needs to be looked at because it has the possibility to lead us into trouble. I don't have a definitive answer to your question, but I will provide it for the record. [The information follows:
CLASS IX ACCIDENT Fuel elements in the Savannah River reactors would indeed melt under hypothetical conditions in which all liquid cooling is lost. This is also true for a new heavy water production reactor using existing fuel technology. It is also true of most concepts, including light water and liquid metal reactors.
Accidents that result in fuel melting due to undefined event sequences are called class IX accidents. NRC has not applied standards to these accidents, but is now in the process of developing policies to deal with severe accidents for which credible initiating mechanisms cannot be defined.
It is believed that the proposed fuel for the modular high-temperature gas reactor will not melt on loss of forced cooling. The fuel particles are encapsulated in materials having extremely high melting temperatures. This fuel technology could also be applied to heavy water reactors, but would require a development program.