NRC renews Areva's Richland fuel fabrication facility for 40 years

27 April 2009

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has renewed the operating license of Areva NP’s nuclear fuel fabrication facility in Richland, Washington, for an additional 40 years of operation. This is the first 40-year renewal of a nuclear facility license in the United States.

The Areva facility is licensed to possess and process uranium enriched to a maximum of 5 percent by weight in the isotope U-235 for the manufacture of fuel assemblies for commercial nuclear power plants.

The license terms for fuel fabrication facilities are not specified in legislation or NRC regulations. Previously, the NRC had licensed fuel fabrication facilities for maximum terms of 20 years. In 2006, the Commission authorized extending the maximum license term to 40 years. Actual license terms depend on the facility, its safety programs and procedures, and its aging management program.

In December 2008, Areva submitted a 30-year licence application for a new gas centrifuge uranium enrichment plant in Bonneville County, Idaho, called the Eagle Rock Enrichment Facility.

In March, it has requested to double its licensed capacity from 3.3 million separative work units to 6.6 million. According to the company, the request does not necessarily mean that the facility will be built to process 6.6 million SWUs.

The company said: "Quite frankly, our plans have not changed. We still intend to build a 3.3 million SWU facility. As Areva indicated before, the plant can be expanded if market conditions favor such expansion. The expansion decision will be made in the future based on the conditions at the time. Having said that, however we have higher level of confidence in new reactor construction in the U.S. and other parts of the world, which will contribute to higher demand for enrichment. To be ready for such possibility, and to reduce time and cost for both the NRC and Areva we decided to apply for a license for a larger facility so in case Areva decides to expand, it would be able to so without further licensing."

According to a March document, the NRC anticipates issuing a safety evaluation report and environmental impact statement by August 2010.

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