NEPA Planning – 2005 Commentary – Fast Flux Test Facility

NEPA Planning – a Fast Flux Test Facility commentary

By: Carl Holder Monday, January 03, 2005

The motive for Benton County v US Department of Energy (DOE) in November 2002 was to find something, anything that would stop sodium drain at the Fast Flux Test Facility (FFTF).   Benton County lost the case, but won the knowledge that any action at FFTF must be accomplished under the rules of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).  For this reason DOE is now preparing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the FFTF Closure Project.  OK, so what?

DOE and Fluor Hanford had contracted the Closure activity under the rules of Comprehensive Environmental Remediation Liability Act (CERCLA), which is the “Superfund” legislation.  OK, so what?

Superfund/CERCLA is for cleanup of an existing hazardous waste pile.  NEPA is getting good information to make good decisions to continue to do a good job right.

Under no circumstance can the FFTF be considered a hazardous waste pile; not yet.  There is no radioactive contamination in the 400 area today; but with the preferred alternative of entombment, there will be a new radioactive and chemically volatile waste dump, “repository” where the FFTF exists today.

But how did the process go off track?  This is where the story gets real interesting.  On December 14, 2001, Secretary Abraham approved following NEPA, deactivation of the FFTF (a last day Clinton Administration decision). Deactivation has been suspended many times since 1995.  In fact, the 1995 Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) is the current authority at the plant.

On July 15, 2002, DOE Chief of Staff McSlarrow wrote that the Secretary directed decommissioning of the FFTF, but gave no legal direction (NEPA or CERCLA).  It was DOE-Richland that began to use CERCLA in correspondence beginning on August 15, 2002.  The wrong switch was thrown, and train was going down the wrong track (according to Judge Shea).  This is important because under CERCLA, public input happens much later and is more restrictive, and the alternatives are narrowed considerably. In that CERCLA based FFTF Closure Project contract it said, “the facility will be entombed.”

Now DOE believes that it is back on track by giving us the Decommission Environmental Impact Statement.  But they are not.  OK, but why not?

The DOE has just notified of the Intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement for a segment of the Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) that is/was flawed.  But this is just symptomatic. The entire 2000 Nuclear Infrastructure-PEIS is suspect because national policy has changed, and new programmatic operations require a rapidly expanding need for neutrons, particularly fast neutrons.

Under Clinton, a new source of neutrons was not planned and the old sources, without the FFTF, were deemed to be adequate.  Just now, Secretary Abraham has gone to France to buy access to fast neutrons at the Phenix, saying “this capability does not exist in the USA.” What?

The requirements for research neutrons are expanding greatly. The President’s National Energy Policy, programmatic change within DOE, and the Hydrogen Initiative create new emphasis and demand for neutrons.  Fast neutrons are in high demand for work in fuel and transformation of nuclear waste.   Dr. William Martin, Chairman the Nuclear Energy Research Advisory Committee (NERAC), 04/28/04, “recommends a study on the need for steady and fast neutron facilities in the U.S.”

With such dramatic new requirements for neutrons, particularly fast neutrons, and the possible reasonable alternative of the FFTF, under NEPA rules, in the Consolidation Environmental Impact Statement require that the facility cannot be destroyed prior to the Record of Decision. Under NEPA rules, all reasonable alternatives must be preserved, and the FFTF remains recoverable.

The decision to destroy the Fast Flux Test Facility must now be a new Secretarial decision, not based upon an interpretation of the 1995 FONSI, especially now that the Secretary has traveled to France to buy fast neutron capability.  DOE Secretary Spencer Abraham has resigned!

Nuclear energy technology has the potential to improve the quality of life for people around the world if we are successful in solving issues such as economics, waste and proliferation,” said DOE Secretary Abraham in Paris, France, August 24, 2004.

On October 23, 2003, Nobel Laureate Burton Richter, Chairman of a NERAC subcommittee reported, “The final demise of the FFTF is to be regretted. We do point out the limitations of foreign facilities.”

Proper Supplemental NEPA evaluation should prove to the nation that the FFTF is required if we are to be successful, in the U.S., in solving issues such as economics, waste and proliferation.  The nation deserves this legally required and intelligent look into the future. The NEPA process requires that the public is involved.

To continue on the current track, specified under CERCLA, could prove very embarrassing to our nation, and illegal and costly for the perpetrators.

Trouble ahead, Trouble behind, Casey Jones you’d better watch your speed.” Grateful Dead.

Carl Holder ©

Monday, January 03, 2005

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