SRS may receive enriched uranium from Canada

  • Posted: Thursday, February 14, 2013 12:01 a.m.
    UPDATED: Thursday, February 14, 2013 7:24 a.m.

South Carolina could soon be the home of more than 6,000 gallons of highly-enriched uranium liquid. But the first-of-its-kind transfer from Canada is not being dumped; it will be turned into reactor fuel.

The removal of 6,075 gallons of the liquid is part of the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Global Threat Reduction Initiative, according to that agency. The initiative looks to consolidate materials at a few, high-security sites. The purpose of the program is to remove nuclear materials in private hands that could be used in an improvised nuclear device.

For planning purposes, the project is slated for middle to late 2013 and would be finished by 2016. Specific shipping information is safeguarded in accordance with security regulations.

The estimated full cost recovery of this project is about $60 million which will be paid for by Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, a Canadian state-owned corporation.

An initial agreement has been reached between U.S. and Canadian authorities, as well as a Georgia-based nuclear material packaging and transportation company, NAC International Inc.

More preparations must occur before shipments and processing of the solutions can begin at SRS, but, if the current agreement continues, the liquid will be a project for H-Canyon’s Chemical Separations Facility.

When it arrives, the solutions would be blended with other compounds to reduce its potency using H-Canyon facilities. The lower enriched uranium would be used to produce fuel in commercial power reactors.

There are, however, some unresolved factors with the transportation. The transport involves a request to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to amend the criteria for a nuclear material transport cask to allow liquid waste containing the radioactive liquid.

According to a draft document, the double-walled, lead-lined, stainless steel vessels being used to transport the material have never been used with liquid waste previously. The Dec. 28, 2012, documents submitted to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission are from NAC International seeking a variance in the waste their vessel can be used to transport.

Although they have been used to transport spent nuclear fuel, highly-enriched solids and low-level liquid uranium, this is a unique request.

“The material will only be transported after the completion of design modifications to the transport packages and licensing by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and other stakeholders as required by U.S. and international regulations,” NNSA said Wednesday.

An answer is due on the question by Aug. 1.

Other approvals needed include the routes in the U.S. based on Department of Transportation regulations, Department of Energy approval of the Transportation and Security Plans, an export license from Canada and DOE approval to ship signifying that all advanced preparations are complete to receive the material into the specified DOE receiving facility.

The liquid uranium was produced during the manufacture of Molybdenum-99, an isotope that, in turn, helps make Technetium-99m – an isomer used in many medical diagnostic procedures. Technetium-99m allows for scanning procedures which collect data rapidly but keep total patient radiation exposure low. This includes functional MRIs, bone scans, 3D scanning and cardiac stress test.

The Global Threat Reduction Initiative has safely and securely eliminated more than 3.4 metric tons of highly enriched uranium and plutonium from more than 30 countries over the past 17 years.

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