The Nuclear Regulatory Commission planned to meet in January to discuss increasing production of tritium for nuclear weapons in civilian reactors operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority, according to a notice posted online Tuesday.
“The purpose of this informational meeting between the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) is to discuss a proposed increase in the number of tritium producing burnable absorption rods beyond what is currently allowed in the reactors at Watts Bar Nuclear Plant, Units 1 and 2,” reads the notice from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Watts Bar Unit 1 has irradiated tritium producing burnable absorber rods in its regular electricity-generating cycles since 2003. Watts Bar Unit 2 only started irradiating rods in 2020. With multiple nuclear-weapons life-extension programs and major modifications in its pipeline, the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) needs to sharply ramp up tritium production this decade.
Compared with expectations, Watts Barr 2 underperformed its first irradiation cycle by about half, the NNSA has said. The goal for the reactor’s first rod-bearing cycle was 992 rods, but it irradiated only 544 in the cycle that lasted from mid-November 2020 to early 2021.
The NNSA has said it wants to increase the combined tritium output of the Watts Bar reactors to about 2,800 grams per cycle by Sept. 30, 2025.