UNITED STATES: The Department of Energy’s Fast Flux Test Reactor (FFTF) on the Hanford Reservation in Washington State, which has been off line since 1992, is nearing the end of the road.

The DOE proposed shutting down the FFTF for good, beginning next year, in a final programmatic environmental impact statement for preferred nuclear infrastructure alternatives the agency will issue to the public in December. The agency will issue a final Record of Decision in January 2001.

Supporters of the FFTF, which was initially built to test breeder reactor fuels but never used for that purpose, have longed hoped that the facility could be converted to test isotopes for use in pharmaceuticals, industry and space missions. However, DOE Under Secretary for Nuclear Energy Bill Magwood said the idea lacked support lacked support from the private sector and other federal agencies.

In particular, Andrew Kadak, president of the American Nuclear Society, had warned that shutting down the FFTF would further erode US R&D capabilities in light of the shutdown of the Brookhaven High Flux Beam Reactor.

Energy Secretary Bill Richardson said the DOE expects to meet the nation’s needs for research & development, medical isotope production, and production of Pu-238 to support future US space exploration.

Richardson said the U.S. will:

•Develop a conceptual design and a research programme for an advanced accelerator applications facility to perform future research and testing, for which Congress has provided funding in FY 2001.

•Resume domestic production of Pu-238 using the Advanced Test Reactor in Idaho and the High Flux Isotope Reactor in Tennessee. The PU-238 will be processed at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

•Continue efforts to make the current infrastructure available for medical research isotope production.