The new facility at Oak Ridge would be owned and operated by TRISO-X, a subsidiary of Rockville, Md.-based X-Energy, which creates the fuel that powers nuclear reactors and builds the reactors themselves. (Rendering courtesy of X-energy)
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has asked residents in Oak Ridge, Tenn., and Anderson County, for their input on a proposed facility that would create nuclear fuel in the city, the Knoxville News Sentinel reported Jan. 25.
"It is important for our staff experts to [hear from] people near the site of the proposed facility because those community members know the area and can alert us to potential impacts of construction and operation of a facility that we should consider in our report," Dave McIntyre, an NRC spokesperson, said in an email to the Knoxville news outlet.
The eastern Tennessee city is home to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, a massive science and technology installation first opened in 1943, and sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).
The new facility at Oak Ridge would be owned and operated by TRISO-X, a subsidiary of Rockville, Md.-based X-Energy, which creates the fuel that powers nuclear reactors and builds the reactors themselves.
The Oak Ridge factory would develop nuclear fuel by converting uranium, according to the NRC. This fuel can then be used in modernized nuclear reactors, such as small modular reactors.
The facility could bring about 400 jobs to the area and is set to be the first of its kind, the company told the Knoxville News Sentinel's online site, KnoxNews.com, in October.
It noted that small modular reactors are designed and developed by more than 20 companies. The new breed of reactors are intended to be less costly, much smaller and offer more safety than the large nuclear plants currently working. In addition, they should take less time to build.
The construction of a TRISO-X facility could position it as a supplier of fuel to future operators of small modular reactors, such as the one used by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) at a site along the Clinch River in the Roane County part of Oak Ridge since 2019. At the time, TVA was the first utility to receive a permit from the NRC to build and run small modular reactors.
TVA's decision on whether to invest in small modular reactors is pending.
The fuel developed by TRISO-X at the new facility would not be used for nuclear weapons, the NRC assured.
How Safe Would the TRISO-X Plant Be?
As part of the licensing application, the nuclear fuel plant would create an emergency plan that would include agreements with local law enforcement and fire and rescue to provide emergency services.
The NRC would have oversight of the facility, just as it does with TVA's nuclear power plants.
"The hazards of fuel fabrication are much lower than for commercial nuclear power reactors," McIntyre noted.
Additionally, the fuel created at the proposed facility would not be considered "nuclear waste," or the material that comes out of a nuclear reactor, "meaning it has not been irradiated in a reactor so is not so radioactive or physically hot as to be dangerous," he explained.
NRC Needs Public Input on Fuel Plant
Currently, the TRISO-X facility is in the licensing stage of its application after having submitted it to the NRC in November.
Now, the federal agency would like comments from residents about the proposed site, any impact they think it might have on the environment, and hear questions or concerns, the News Sentinel noted. The NRC's job includes putting together a report on the environmental impact while also conducting a safety and technical review.
The agency will accept comments until Feb. 14. Residents also can submit comments online at www.regulations.gov using Docket ID NRC-2022-0201, or via email to [email protected].
For those wishing to send their comments to the NRC via the U.S. Postal Service, the address is: Office of Administration, Mail Stop: TWFN-7-A60M, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Washington, DC 20555-0001, Attn: Program Management, Announcements and Editing Staff.
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