DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY
FINDING OF NO SIGNIFICANT IMPACT FOR THE
DISPOSITION OF HIGHLY ENRICHED URANIUM OBTAINED FROM
THE REPUBLIC OF KAZAKHSTAN
AGENCY: Department of Energy
ACTION: Finding of No Significant Impact
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has prepared an "Environmental Assessment (EA) for the Disposition of Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) Obtained from the Republic of Kazakhstan" (DOE/EA-1063). DOE proposes to convert approximately 600 kilograms (kg) of Kazakhstan-origin HEU to a material that cannot be used directly for nuclear weapons. DOE proposes to accomplish this by blending the HEU with a low-enriched uranium (LEU) blending stock to produce LEU in the form of uranyl nitrate that can be used to fabricate commercial nuclear reactor fuel.
A Preapproval Copy of the EA was distributed to representatives of the affected states and Native American tribes, and other groups and individuals upon request, in April 1995 for review and comment. The final EA includes an appendix that contains a list of the commentors, a summary of their comments, and DOE's responses to these comments. The final EA was modified in response to comments.
Based on the analyses in the EA, DOE has determined that the Proposed Action does not constitute a major Federal action significantly affecting the human environment within the meaning of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969 (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.). Therefore, DOE has determined that an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is not required and is issuing this Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI).
ADDRESSES: Written requests for copies of the EA should be sent to Office of NEPA Compliance and Outreach (MD-4), Attention: HEU EA, Forrestal Building, U.S. Department of Energy, 1000 Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20585.
For general information on the DOE NEPA process, please contact: Ms. Carol M. Borgstrom, Director, Office of NEPA Policy and Assistance (EH- 42), Forrestal Building, U.S. Department of Energy, 1000 Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20585. Ms. Borgstrom can be reached at (202) 586-4600. Comments and questions about the NEPA process also can be left on the DOE NEPA hotline, 1-800-472-2756.
On September 27, 1993, President Clinton announced a policy to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The President announced in this Nonproliferation and Export Control Policy that the United States would seek to eliminate, where possible, the accumulation of stockpiles of HEU; pursue the purchase of HEU from the former Soviet Union and other countries; and convert the HEU to peaceful use as reactor fuel. Consistent with this policy, the United States acquired approximately 600 kg of HEU from the former Soviet Republic of Kazakhstan under the code name "Project Sapphire." The Kazakhstan origin HEU is currently in safe secure interim storage at the Oak Ridge Reservation Y-12 Plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee (Y-12 Plant). A White House press release dated November 29, 1994, announced, among other things, that: "It is currently planned, consistent with the President's nonproliferation policy, that the material will be transferred to a commercial facility within six to nine months, where the material would be blended down for use in commercial nuclear reactors." It is important to blend the Kazakhstan-origin HEU to LEU as promptly as possible to demonstrate to other nations, especially the republics of the former Soviet Union, that the United States has converted the material to a form that cannot be used for nuclear weapons. In this manner, the United States hopes to encourage other nations to reduce their stockpiles of weapons-usable fissile materials and advance global nonproliferation goals.
DOE now proposes to transport the HEU to a commercial vendor for blending to LEU so as to be available for subsequent use in commercial reactor fuel. DOE has requested that the United States Enrichment Corporation (USEC) act as DOE's agent in obtaining the blending services associated with the Proposed Action. This request is in accordance with the Energy Policy Act of 1992, which established the USEC as a wholly owned government corporation responsible for the United States' uranium enrichment activities. After the HEU has been blended to LEU, USEC will also act as DOE's agent in the sale of the LEU to be used to fabricate commercial reactor fuel.
The Proposed Action includes transportation of approximately 600 kg of Kazakhstan-origin HEU from DOE's Y-12 Plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, to either the Babcock & Wilcox Co. facility in Lynchburg, Virginia (B&W Lynchburg), or the Nuclear Fuel Services, Inc., facility in Erwin, Tennessee (NFS Erwin), for blending; transportation of approximately 30 metric tons of low- enriched uranium hexafluoride (UF6) blending stock from either USEC's Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Kentucky (USEC Paducah) or Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Ohio (USEC Portsmouth) to General Electric's Nuclear Energy Production facility in Wilmington, North Carolina (GE Wilmington), or an alternative facility, for conversion into low-enriched uranium oxide blending stock; transportation of approximately 24 metric tons of uranium oxide blending stock to either B&W Lynchburg or NFS Erwin; blending of the HEU and uranium oxide blending stock to produce LEU in the form of uranyl nitrate; and transportation of approximately 43 metric tons of uranyl nitrate from the blending site to USEC Portsmouth.
Under the Proposed Action, the shipments of HEU and blending stock would commence by June 1995. It is anticipated that the Proposed Action would be completed within 1 year after the shipments commence.
B&W Lynchburg and NFS Erwin are the only two domestic commercial contractors licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission with the capability of providing the blending services required under the Proposed Action. On February 7, 1995, USEC issued Requests for Proposals to these two contractors to obtain the required blending services. USEC received proposals from both contractors and is currently evaluating them to make a blending contractor selection. Both B&W Lynchburg and NFS Erwin have indicated that they would likely enter into negotiations with GE Wilmington to provide services associated with the Proposed Action for converting the blending stock from low-enriched UF6 to low-enriched uranium oxide for blending with the HEU. Therefore, the EA considers two blending site options (B&W Lynchburg and NFS Erwin) and one blending stock conversion facility (GE Wilmington).
In addition to the two commercial blending sites considered in the EA, there are two DOE sites that have facilities that were considered for the required blending services: the Y-12 Plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and the Savannah River Site (SRS) near Aiken, South Carolina. However, because of upgrades and administrative changes underway at these sites the required facilities would not be available until late 1996 (Y-12 Plant) or September 1997 (H-Canyon, SRS) at the earliest. Accordingly, neither site would be capable of providing the blending services associated with the Proposed Action in a timely manner and therefore are not considered further in the EA.
The no action alternative is to leave the Kazakhstan-origin HEU in safe secure storage at the Y- 12 Plant. The following activities would not occur: transportation of the HEU, blending stock, and uranyl nitrate; conversion of the blending stock from UF6 to uranium oxide; and blending of the HEU and blending stock to LEU in the form of uranyl nitrate. Therefore, the HEU would remain in a form that could be used for nuclear weapons and could not be used to fabricate commercial nuclear reactor fuel without further processing. The no action alternative would not meet the goals of the Nonproliferation and Export Control Policy, would not follow through on the United States' commitment to remove the proliferation potential of the Kazakhstan-origin HEU, and would not meet the other aspects of the purpose and need for the Proposed Action as set forth in the EA.
The EA also considered, but did not analyze in detail, two additional alternatives: blending the Kazakhstan-origin HEU down to LEU with less than 20 percent but greater than four percent enrichment and storing the LEU for potential future use; and blending the material down to an enrichment of less than one percent for disposal. The option of blending to less than 20 percent but greater than four percent enrichment would require the continued storage of the LEU until a use was determined. Further blending would be required for use in commercial nuclear reactor fuel if that disposition method were chosen. Disposal of this material as waste at this enrichment level (less than 20 percent but greater than four percent) may involve criticality concerns that would need to be accommodated. The impacts from the initial blending would likely be similar to the impacts associated with the Proposed Action. Non-radiological transportation impacts would likely be slightly smaller than those associated with the Proposed Action, given the smaller quantity of blending stock and resulting LEU.
The option of blending to less than one percent enrichment and disposal would require transportation and blending of approximately five times the amount of material as the Proposed Action. It is expected that the impacts from the blending would be similar to, but slightly greater than, the impacts associated with the Proposed Action given the larger quantity of blending stock and resulting material. Non-radiological transportation impacts also would likely be slightly greater than those associated with the Proposed Action, but with no fatalities occurring under accident-free conditions. Storage and disposal costs would be the responsibility of the government since the material would not be sold to a commercial vendor. Indirect impacts associated with further processing of the uranyl nitrate into, and eventual use as, commercial nuclear reactor fuel (including impacts associated with spent nuclear fuel) would not occur. However, by not using the material in commercial nuclear reactor fuel, new material may have to be mined, milled, fluorinated, and enriched to produce an equivalent amount of commercial nuclear reactor fuel. The creation of this new fuel material would likely have a more substantial impact on the environment than using LEU blended from HEU as a result of the greater degree of processing and transportation required, and the creation of mill tails. Neither of these alternatives would convert the Kazakhstan-origin HEU to peaceful use as commercial nuclear reactor fuel. Accordingly, the more reasonable and effective means of disposing of the Kazakhstan-origin HEU would be to blend it to LEU for use in commercial nuclear reactor fuel consistent with the President's Nonproliferation Policy.
The EA analyzes impacts associated with the transportation of the Kazakhstan-origin HEU, blending stock, and uranyl nitrate; impacts associated with the conversion of the UF6 blending stock to uranium oxide blending stock; and impacts associated with the blending of the Kazakhstan-origin HEU and uranium oxide blending stock.
It is unlikely that a fatality would occur as a result of the transportation activities associated with the Proposed Action regardless of the blending site. Of the potential risks associated with the Proposed Action, the maximum postulated number of total fatalities that would occur from the normal transportation of all materials over the one-year period addressed in the EA would not exceed 0.0023 for the B&W Lynchburg option. The maximum total risk option includes transporting the Kazakhstan-origin HEU from the Y-12 Plant to B&W Lynchburg, the UF6 blending stock from USEC Paducah to GE Wilmington, the uranium oxide blending stock from GE Wilmington to B&W Lynchburg, and the uranyl nitrate from B&W Lynchburg to USEC Portsmouth. For the NFS Erwin option, the maximum postulated number of total fatalities that would occur from the normal transportation of all materials over the one-year period addressed in the EA would not exceed 0.0021. Even under radiological accident conditions, the maximum collective dose of 5.4 person-rem resulting from a bounding safe secure trailer (SST) accident (that is, the accident with the greatest potential consequences, even though it has a small probability of occurrence) in an urban area would be estimated to result in 0.0027 latent cancer fatalities for B&W Lynchburg option and 0.0022 latent cancer fatalities for the NFS option. Given that the probability of the bounding SST accident resulting in the release of radioactive material occurring in an urban area is estimated to be 3.8x10E-13 (less than one chance in 2 trillion) for the B&W Lynchburg option and 3.9x10E-12 (less than one chance in 200 billion) for NFS Erwin option, the chance of any latent cancers resulting is extremely low. A hypothetical release of an entire 50 kg load of Kazakhstan-origin material for the Proposed Action would result in a maximum of two latent cancer fatalities, but the probability of this occurring is even lower than the probability for the bounding SST accident described above.
The analyses of the other activities associated with the Proposed Action focused on impacts associated with the conversion of the UF6 blending stock to uranium oxide blending stock and impacts associated with the blending of the Kazakhstan-origin HEU and uranium oxide blending stock. The potential impacts identified in the EA regarding the receipt, conversion, and blending of the materials involved in the Proposed Action and the handling and disposal of any associated wastes were small. The probability of an accident-induced radiological exposure or fatality during the transfer of the HEU between SSTs and storage would be extremely small. The risks associated with the plutonium and beryllium constituents of the Kazakhstan-origin HEU during handling, processing, and disposal would be small, and there would be very small quantities of these materials in any effluents or emissions. All of the facilities considered in the Proposed Action would be capable of handling and processing the materials involved under their current licenses and permits with no more than minor modifications. According to B&W and NFS, additional measures would be taken, where required, to minimize worker exposure and any potential emissions, effluents, and wastes. Permit modification requirements and any required associated monitoring activities would be established and instituted prior to HEU processing for the Proposed Action. With respect to environmental justice issues, the Proposed Action would not have any high and adverse impacts disproportionately affecting minority populations or low- income populations.
The cumulative impacts resulting from the addition of transportation and blending impacts associated with the Proposed Action to the impacts resulting from the normal operations at the sites involved would be extremely low. It would be unlikely that a fatality would occur as a result of the cumulative impacts associated with the Proposed Action.
Based on the analysis in the EA, the Proposed Action for the disposition of HEU obtained from the Republic of Kazakhstan does not constitute a major Federal action significantly affecting the quality of the human environment within the meaning of NEPA. Therefore, DOE has determined that an EIS is not required and is issuing this Finding of No Significant Impact.
Office of Fissile Materials Disposition