NRC Completes Evaluation of Department of Energy Report on Tritium Production

Office of Public Affairs Telephone: 301/415-8200
Washington, DC 20555-001 E-mail:

No. 99-109
May 26, 1999


The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has concluded that a special Department of Energy (DOE) technical report has satisfactorily addressed many of the technical issues involved in the use of a commercial nuclear power plant for production of tritium, a material essential to the U.S. nuclear weapon arsenal.

The DOE report was submitted to NRC last July. Known as "Tritium Production Core Topical Report," it evaluates the effect of tritium production on the many technical areas NRC reviews during the nuclear power plant licensing process. It is expected to be referenced by licensees seeking authority to produce tritium in a power reactor. The unclassified version of the report has been placed in the NRC Public Document Room.

NRC also has found that, because of the variety of plant designs in the U.S. -- and since the DOE report did not include plant-specific analyses -- 17 areas will need to be analyzed further in a plant-specific license amendment request by any licensee seeking to produce tritium in a commercial plant. These issues include such matters as reactor vessel integrity, control room habitability, spent fuel storage, and the spent fuel pool cooling system. NRC findings are contained in a safety evaluation of the DOE report. The NRC evaluation also spells out changes that will need to be made in license technical specifications.

DOE announced in December that it had chosen the Tennessee Valley Authority's Watts Bar and Sequoyah plants in Tennessee for its commercial light water reactor tritium production program. As a result, NRC anticipates license amendment requests for that purpose from TVA next year.

Because of the importance of this program to U.S. national security, the Commission will assign high priority to the requests. It also will follow the normal process for considering such amendments, which includes the opportunity for a hearing. NRC further plans to hold public meetings in the vicinity of each plant before tritium production can begin.

The NRC safety evaluation, NUREG-1672, will be available for purchase from the Government Printing Office and also will be placed in the NRC Public Document Room, for copying and inspection. The full text of the report will be posted on the NRC Internet web site.

Tritium is a radioactive isotope of hydrogen that is essential for the effective functioning of nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal. The United States has not produced tritium since 1988.

Because tritium decays at the rate of about five percent per year, DOE concluded that the U.S. will need new production by 2005. Current, short-term tritium needs are being met by recycling tritium from dismantled nuclear weapons.

TVA has conducted a small scale test of tritium production at the Watts Bar Unit 1. NRC approved a license amendment in September 1997 for that purpose.

Page Last Reviewed/Updated Wednesday, March 24, 2021