Southern Anti-Plutonium Campaign  


On Friday, November 16, 2001 the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Advisory Committee on Reactor Safety (ACRS) met to hear staff reviews of the key issues in Duke Cogema Stone & Webster’s (DCS) Construction Authorization Request (CAR) for the plutonium fuel factory proposed for the Savannah River Site.  I attended the meeting which was held in NRC Offices in Rockville, MD.  This is my report.

Janet Zeller
Executive Director
Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League


The plutonium fuel project is being evaluated in a “top to bottom assessment of physical security” by the NRC in conjunction with other federal agencies.

Some general deficiencies in the CAR were flagged by staff and ACRS committee members including: a) DCS’s over-reliance on administrative controls, e.g., operator skills, b) DCS’s reliance on qualitative rather than quantitative analysis, c) DCS’s delay to the operational license phase of several vital systems such as accounting for amounts of plutonium coming in and going out of the facility.

Chairman Dana Powers expressed concern about the “philosophical approach” of the project; he announced that bifurcation will be a major discussion item at the March ACRS meeting. Bifurcation concerns include DOE/NRC jurisdiction, the public/private nature the plutonium fuel factory, and facility wastes going to SRS.


The NRC staff reviews and ACRS discussions zeroed in on some important deficiencies and areas of concern in the DCS proposal. These included:

Fire plan: The fire plan is woefully lacking. Chairman Powers likened it to the fire detection and extinguishing methods for an "auto body shop."  A subcommittee will conduct further work.

Criticality: The committee was not convinced that criticality is impossible at the facility. Flaws include DCS’s deterministic approach which relies on operator analysis and the absence of a mitigation plan. Criticality was one of the dominant risks.

Filtration: Committee members noted the necessity for an optimal filtration system because the facility relies on filters for health and environmental control. Staff outlined some advantages of sand filters over HEPA filters including no degradation and no fire hazard.

Chemical Safety: One committee member challenged the absence of chemical industry standards, noting that DCS chose to use nuclear reactor standards. One key problem is the “poor understanding of the formation of red oil” and DCS’s erroneous reliance on temperature control which has proved inadequate.

Seismic Issues: The committee focused on questions about using a more precise model including bedrock to soil modeling.

Physical Security: This entire presentation was obsolete post September 11. The analysis still included the impossibility of intentional plane crashes. Committee members questioned the lack of detail on the interface between SRS security and special fuel factory security.