In a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) published last week, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission made a “preliminary recommendation” for approval of Westinghouse Electric Company’s application to renew for 40 years the operating license of its Columbia Fuel Fabrication Facility (CFFF), located in Hopkins, S.C.
The impact on the environment of an additional four decades of operation at the CFFF would be “small,” the 276-page report said, except in the area of groundwater resources, for which the impact would be “small to moderate.”
NRC staff will hold a virtual public meeting on the draft EIS on August 26 at 6:00 p.m. (ET). Also, the public is invited to submit comments by September 20 via the federal rulemaking website, at regulations.gov, with a search for Docket ID NRC–2015–0039. Comments can also be emailed to WEC_CFFF_EIS@nrc.gov, or mailed to Office of Administration, Mail Stop: TWFN–7– A60M, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Washington, DC 20555– 0001, ATTN: Program Management, Announcements, and Editing Staff.
Why it’s important: The CFFF, which has been in operation since 1969, produces low-enriched uranium fuel assemblies for use in commercial power reactors. The plant is one of only three facilities in the United States licensed by the NRC to manufacture the assemblies.
Background: The NRC received the CFFF license renewal application from Westinghouse in December 2014, and in June 2018, the agency published a final environmental assessment (EA) and a finding of no significant impact (FONSI). The next month, however, the company discovered that uranium had leaked into the soil through a three-inch hole in the facility’s concrete floor. In addition, Westinghouse initiated an investigation, under the purview of the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC), into a similar uranium leak at the site in 2011.
This information, and the public’s concerns arising from the leaks, led the NRC to reopen its environmental review of the CFFF application. The agency withdrew its EA and FONSI and announced the publication of an updated draft EA for public review and comment. Following the draft EA’s comment period, the NRC staff determined that “after considering new information provided by Westinghouse related to the remedial investigations being conducted under a consent agreement with the SCDHEC,” a FONSI could not be reached.
The NRC staff informed Westinghouse in June 2020 that it would prepare the more exhaustive EIS.