ASLB grants conference to Fermi foe

May 5, 2020, 3:20PMNuclear News

A Michigan antinuclear group will have an opportunity next month to explain to an Atomic Safety and Licensing Board why there should be a public hearing on a license amendment request (LAR) concerning the fuel racks used in the Fermi-2 spent fuel pool (SFP).

The ASLB agreed on April 21 to hear oral arguments from Redford, Mich.’s Citizens’ Resistance at Fermi 2 (CRAFT) via a June 10 telephone conference. Other scheduled participants include Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff and representatives of DTE Energy, the owner and operator of Fermi-2, located in Newport, Mich. Both the NRC and DTE oppose CRAFT’s hearing request, which was filed on March 9.

In 2016, the NRC granted DTE a 20-year license renewal for the 1,205-MWe boiling water reactor. The utility submitted the disputed LAR in September last year.

Through the LAR, DTE is asking permission to install neutron-absorbing inserts into the Fermi-2 SFP—specifically, NETCO-SNAP-IN rack inserts—to replace Boraflex, the material currently performing the absorption function. CRAFT, however, contends that DTE should be forced to adhere to a license condition the utility agreed to that calls for replacing racks containing Boraflex with racks containing Boral.

What they’re saying: "If DTE is not held accountable to this license amendment condition and made to abide by their original agreement, then they have invalidated the license condition contract and therefore Fermi’s 20-year extension should be revoked until such time as DTE upholds their legal commitment and replaces the Boraflex materials with the Boral,” CRAFT stated in its hearing request.

In a May 1 email to Nuclear News, DTE spokesperson Stephen Tait responded to CRAFT’s argument. “During our extensive license renewal process several years ago, we committed to the NRC that we would modify the racks in our used fuel pool by 2025 to ensure the safe storage of the fuel for the duration of the plant,” Tait said. “Since that time, DTE identified that a different technology is available that is safer to install and is proven in the industry. We requested last year a license amendment with the NRC so we could install that technology in our used fuel pool. This aligns with our commitment to our top priority of safe operation of the plant. The NRC’s license amendment process is rigorous to ensure the request is consistent with its mission to protect the health and safety of the public. We will follow the agency’s process and respond to any requests they make.”

A little history: Following DTE’s submittal in 2014 of its Fermi-2 renewal application, the NRC, noting certain degradation issues with the use of Boraflex, requested additional information from the utility on its proposed Boraflex monitoring program. In response, DTE revised its application to state that it would not rely on Boraflex for neutron absorption during the unit’s period of extended operation. Instead, DTE committed to removing the existing Boraflex racks and installing in their place new Boral racks, prior to Fermi-2’s March 2025 life-extension start date.

In its April 3 answer opposing the CRAFT hearing request, NRC staff stated, “In making the commitment that was to become License Condition 2.C.(26)(c), DTE noted that there could be alternatives to replacing the Boraflex racks that would also accomplish the objective of not crediting Boraflex material for neutron absorption. The LAR at issue in this proceeding proposes one such alternative; specifically, installing neutron-absorbing inserts (i.e., NETCO-SNAP–IN rack inserts) into the existing Boraflex racks. In its LAR, DTE seeks to demonstrate that once installed, these NETCO-SNAP–IN rack inserts would provide sufficient neutron absorption such that reliance on the existing Boraflex would no longer be required.” The agency also noted that it has approved installation of these rack inserts to replace Boraflex at the LaSalle, Peach Bottom, Quad Cities, and River Bend nuclear plants.

Follow the story: Members of the public who are interested in listening to the phone conference can contact the ASLB’s law clerk, Taylor Mayhall, at 301-415-3027 or, for the necessary listen-only telephone access information.

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