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Experimental nuclear energy reactor to be razed.

The historic Southwest Experimental Fast Oxide Reactor, referred to as SEFOR, located 20 miles southwest of Fayetteville, Arkansas will finally be dismantled, and some nearby residents are wondering what might leak out.

A project of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission along with a consortium of 17 electric utilities, SEFOR was only in operation from 1969 to 1972. The nuclear fission facility located in the unincorporated community of Strickler was powered with a mix of uranium oxide and plutonium oxide, a spent nuclear fuel by-product.

Conventional cold water nuclear power reactors fueled by enriched uranium boil water to produce steam-generated electrical energy. SEFOR was a next-generation nuclear power plant designed to conserve scant reserves of uranium and at the same time produce weapons-grade plutonium.

After SEFOR's radioactive fuel and coolant were removed in 1974, the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville acquired the facility for radiological instrument calibration and other research purposes, but it quit in 1986.

Generations of Strickler residents have patiently reckoned with SEFOR in their backyard, so on the night of December 16th about 80 turned out at the local fire station to hear what is to come of their forsaken nuclear neighbor.

EnergySolutions, a global nuclear waste management company based in Salt Lake City, has been contracted to help with the dismantling, and representatives led the townhall at the fire station.

EnergySolutions Project Director Dean Wheeler assured residents that his firm will be fully transparent as the two-phase decontamination and demolition project moves forward.

In 2009, EnergySolutions was one of four contractors chosen to survey the site and draw up a decontamination plan under phase one, which cost $1.9 million dollars.

Phase two will take nine months, Wheeler says, as will phase three--the riskiest, most expensive of the three-part mitigation.

"Demolishing the pressurized reactor building, bioshield, containment building and all hardware," he says, "reducing the site to 'greenfield status,' will require an additional $16 million dollar federal grant. " SEFOR's large rusty white reactor dome and derelict campus cover a 3-acre area. Wheeler told the crowd that all radioactive debris will be hauled off by EnergySolutions secure, "rad-waste" disposal trucks for burial at a federally sanctioned nuclear waste landfill, out of state.

The University of Arkansas contracted with EnergySolutions to safely demolish SEFOR because of the firm's track record servicing U.S. nuclear facilities nationwide, as well as the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station destroyed by a tsunami five years ago in Japan.

The plant's experimental breeder reactor makes it a bit unusual and worth precautions.

To quell concerns about rumored radiation leaks, Wheeler says the public will be invited to visit the site later in January.

The Strickler plant was decommissioned in 1972 after it fulfilled its research mission: producing electricity while yielding plutonium for reprocessing into future reactor fuel and for weapons. The technology, however, was never fully deployed in the U.S. due to safety concerns and eventual discovery of plentiful global reserves of raw uranium.

Once SEFOR's demolition and cleanup is complete, later in 2018, the University of Arkansas will either maintain the parcel as a carbon sequestration forest management site or sell it.

Source: Jacqueline Froelich, Arkansas Public Media
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Publication:Nuclear Waste News
Date:Jan 30, 2017
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