Antinuke group fails in call for hearing on Fermi LAR

July 10, 2020, 9:25AMNuclear News

An Atomic Safety and Licensing Board has denied a Michigan antinuclear group’s petition for a public hearing on a DTE Energy license amendment request (LAR) concerning the fuel racks used in the Fermi-2 spent fuel pool (SFP). In its July 7 order, the ASLB rejected the arguments of Redford, Mich.’s Citizens’ Resistance at Fermi 2 (CRAFT), stating that the organization “plainly has failed to submit an admissible contention.”

The ASLB had agreed in April to hear oral arguments from CRAFT via a telephone conference (NN, June 2020, p. 15). The conference was held June 10 and included staff from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and representatives of DTE.

The issue: In 2016, the NRC granted DTE a 20-year license renewal for Fermi-2, a 1,205-MWe boiling water reactor located in Newport, Mich. Some three years later, the utility submitted an LAR to the agency, 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 objected to the LAR, arguing that DTE should be forced to adhere to a license condition the utility agreed to that called for replacing racks containing Boraflex with racks containing Boral.

In its petition, filed in March this year, CRAFT stated, “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.”

Background: 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 other nuclear power plants.

CRAFT reply: Responding to the ASLB’s decision in a July 7 posting on CRAFT’s Facebook page, Jesse James Deer In Water, a member of the group, wrote, “They could not deny our standing (which means they do feel that people who live within range of the plant safety would be impacted by a mishap) in the case, and I can imagine they do their best to deny any contentions regularly.” According to the order, however, “no determination of [CRAFT’s] standing” was made.

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