Neighbors Growing Together | May 20, 2018

Documents Reveal Time-line and Plans for “Small Modular Reactors” (SMRs) at the Savannah River Site (SRS) Unrealistic and Promise no Funding

By Thomas Clements
Photo by: Tom Clements At news conference outside South Carolina state capitol, Govenor Nikki Haley backs federal government subsidies for small modular reactors at the Savannah River Site.  The governor could not say where the waste from the reactors would go, though indications are that the spent reactors and radioactive spent fuel would be taken back to the production site.

One SMR Design being Eyed at SRS for Use of Plutonium Fuel (MOX) and Production of Tritium Gas Used in Nuclear Weapons

UPDATE of November 21, 2012: No SMR designs teamed up with SRS received the DOE subsidy - SMR companies will have to go through another solicitation process - the "Enterprise SRS" scheme, which is based on SMRs at SRS, faces more troubles

Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability (ANA) in Columbia, South Carolina reveal unrealistic plans for pursuit of “small modular reactors” (SMR) at the Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site, located near Aiken, South Carolina.

The obtained Memoranda of Agreement (MOA) between SMR vendors and the Savannah River Site address three conceptual designs:  NuScale, SMR, LLC and Gen4 Energy (formerly Hyperion).

“It’s clear that officials at SRS are caught up in an unrealistic public relations campaign to promote imaginary SMRs at the site,” said Tom Clements, Nonproliferation Policy Director with the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability. “SRS is unfortunately staking its future on development of SMRs when there is little indication that they will be economically or technologically practical.  The future of SMRs at SRS is doubtful at best and no amount of public relations spin will make them come true absent sound designs and large amounts of private funding.”

The MOAs indicate that sale of electricity to SRS via “Purchase Power Agreements” (PPAs) is being viewed as a way to fund the reactors.  “Sales of electricity produced by SMRs at high rates to SRS would likely be nothing but a back-door subsidy by big government and will not be defensible to the public or Congress,” said Clements.

The main goal of the SMR vendors appear to be a desire to obtain part of the $452 million subsidy that DOE will award in September to two reactor designs.

“It’s time for big government to stop choosing winners and losers among SMR concepts and let the free market decide if SMRs will be pursued,” said Clements. "It's shocking that Governor Haley of South Carolina would support the big-government approach being presented by the Obama Administration over the decisions about SMRs being made by the free market."

The MOA with SMR, LLC for the “Safe Modular Underground Reactor” indicates pursuit of controversial nuclear weapons-related programs.  The MOA states that “the Parties agree to invite the NNSA [National Nuclear Security Administration] to discuss the feasibility of additional Agreements to irradiate Tritium Producing Burnable Absorption Rods (TPBARs) and Mixed Oxide Fuel (MOX).”   These plans refer to the production of radioactive tritium gas used to boost the explosive power of all U.S. nuclear weapons and the use of experimental plutonium fuel (mixed oxide, MOX) made from weapons-grade plutonium surplus to the nuclear weapons program.

Tritium for nuclear weapons is currently produced by the Watts Bar unit 1 reactor owned by the Tennessee Valley Authority.  According to ANA, this shows that the U.S. has quietly crossed the imaginary line between the military and civilian nuclear processes and is engaged in a project which undermines sound nuclear non-proliferation policies.  “For non-proliferation, safety and cost reason, production of tritium and use of MOX fuel should be ruled out for any SMRs,” said Clements.

SRS is engaged in an intensive promotional campaign to secure SMRs at the site in spite of the fact that they only exist on paper, no design is licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and sources of funding for development and construction of the reactors have not been identified.  This effort by SRS to present itself as a leading SMR candidate site is in parallel with the overly enthusiastic media campaign by SMR vendors to promote their specific models, according to ANA.

“While SRS may superficially appear to present certain attractive aspects for the location of SMRs, the site has not had experience with operation of nuclear reactors in over twenty years and has no current expertise in reactor operation,” said Clements.  “While DOE is set to chose two SMR designs to fund for further development, SRS affirms that no construction funds will be provided, leaving vendors with the difficult and perhaps insurmountable task to find private funding for SMR construction.”

Two of the three separate “Memoranda of Agreement” for three different and still hypothetical SMR designs include deployment timelines which are already admitted by DOE to be inaccurate since they were signed less than six months ago.

As SMRs are being promoted for overseas markets, SRS officials will not say what plans are for used reactor vessels or highly radioactive spent fuel which would be taken back to the production site.

“If SRS would become a nuclear waste dumping site due to involvement in SMR programs, this is something that the public in the Aiken area and in South Carolina will soundly reject,” said Clements.

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The three MOAs obtained by ANA include agreements with SRS and the following vendors:

SMR, LLC (http://holtecpower.com/) – signed December 2011

http://www.ananuclear.org/Portals/0/SMR,%20LLC%20MOA.pdf

NuScale (http://www.nuscale.com/) – signed March 2012

http://www.ananuclear.org/Portals/0/NuScale%20MOA.pdf

Hyperion Power Generation (now Gen4 Energy,

http://www.gen4energy.com/) – signed December 2011

http://www.ananuclear.org/Portals/0/Hyperion%20MOA%20.pdf

 

 

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