238Pu Production at INL

The DOE and NASA have submitted a report to congress requesting $30 million in funds to restart plutonium production in the US.  The plan outlines the need for ~2kg of plutonium per year through 2030, and indicates that the neptunium, currently stored at INL, will be used as the irradiation target.  The neptunium will be processed into plutonium at both the ATR and High Flux Reactor at Oak Ridge.  Oak Ridge was granted its reactivation of 238Pu production in early 2012. 

Both the Congressional FY12 Minibus Appropriation Bill and President Obama's FY13 budget have specified 238Pu production renewals at DOE facilities.  KYNF has voiced concerns over the proposed use of the ATR, citing that the reactor, built in 1967, has outlived its design basis.  KYNF will seek a full environmental assessment and EIS when the DOE activates INL as a 238Pu producer.

RTG Production at INL

NASA and DoE interest in 238Pu revolves around programmatic support for the production of radio-isotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs).  An RTG is an electrical generator that obtains its power from the heat of radioactive decay.  INL is currently the lone producer of RTGs.  Specific to NASA concerns, RTGs are used in satellites, space probes, and unmanned rovers.  While NASA argues the advantages of RTGs over successfully implemented solar panels, launching 238Pu into space is not without extreme risk.  There have been six known accidents involving RTG carrying spacecraft.  The worst incident occurred in 1964 when SNAP 9-A, a satellite containing 2.1 lbs of 238Pu, fell to earth.  Plutonium was detected over the following months in parts of the southern hemisphere.  In 1996, 200 grams of plutonium fell into the ocean off the coast of Chile from the Russian Mars 96.

The odds are frightening when viewing the statistics NASA presents.  The Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) issued for the recent MSL Curiosity mission cited a 1 in 220 chance of releasing 238Pu.  The report concedes that even at ground level, 238Pu less than 1 micron in diameter will potentially become mixed in the troposphere and create a swath of radiological release through the Caribbean, across North Africa, the Mideast, India, China, the Pacific islands, Mexico and the southern United States.  The cost of decontamination would be between $267 million and $1.5 billion per square mile, for farmland and urban areas respectively.  KYNF continues to oppose RTG production.

WYCAB Meetings

KYNF is implementing a Wyoming Community Advisory Board (WYCAB) in 2012.  These meetings will be held biannually in Jackson.  The purpose of these meetings is to increase local and statewide public participation in Idaho nuclear-waste cleanup decisions.  A stakeholder population in Teton County of 20,000 people is largely uninvolved in the environmental issues at the nuclear waste retrieval sites in Idaho.  This lack of input is troubling, as radioactive and organic solvent waste affects the soil, air and water table near Teton County.  Additionally, this site is funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and by mandate relies on public input for the allocation of money spent.  Currently at INL over 50 sites are being decommissioned and decontaminated.

These WYCAB meetings are hosted by KYNF and are designed to educate and involve the public without putting you to sleep in the process.  INL is providing subject matter experts to represent their scientific community and discuss the topics chosen for each WYCAB meeting.  The public will have the full capability to aid in deciding what topics you want discussed.  The advisory board is comprised of 10 seats, to include local non-profits, elected officials, local science group representatives and members of the community.  Diverse representation ensures dynamic discussion.  The public is encouraged to attend, and will have the opportunity to directly engage in the topics at the meeting, or through a written comment period prior to each meeting.

RADNET Monitoring in Jackson

RADNET is a nation wide radiation monitoring program that provides real time sampling of air, water and soil.  The equipment is more effective and reliable than the current monitors in Jackson.  As the only state without RADNET monitors (RADNET), Wyoming and Jackson deserve this important federally funded program that is made available to the rest of the country.  KYNF is working with EPA and RADNET administrators to have this monitoring program placed in Jackson.

ATR Evaluation

KYNF has been collecting documents relating to the design and safety of the 43 year old reactor.  Design documents and third party engineering reports may suggest that the facility, despite parts replacements every 7-10 years, has outlived its design basis and life extension program.  KYNF is currently involved in a join FOIA request with the Environmental Defense Institute to DOE.  Once the request documents are received, as in FOIA requests in the past, they will be evaluated and shared with the public.

Waste Remediation

KYNF works actively with INL staff at the Idaho Cleanup Project to ensure that nuclear waste is safely removed from the ground above the Snake River Aquifer.  New waste processing techniques are carefully monitored to ensure that no environmentally unsafe practices are used.  KYNF also takes a firm stance on no new nuclear waste being shipped into Idaho, for interim or long-term storage.