[Federal Register Volume 75, Number 93 (Friday, May 14, 2010)]
[Pages 27372-27375]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2010-11563]



[Docket No. 50-252; NRC-2009-0557]

University of New Mexico; University of New Mexico AGN-201M 
Reactor; Environmental Assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact

    The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC or the Commission) is 
considering issuance of a renewed Facility Operating License No. R-102, 
to the University of New Mexico (the licensee), which would authorize 
continued operation of the University of New Mexico AGN-201M reactor, 
located in Albuquerque, Bernalillo County, New Mexico. Therefore, as 
required by Title 10 of the Code of Federal Regulations (10 CFR) 51.21, 
the NRC is issuing this Environmental Assessment and Finding of No 
Significant Impact.

Environmental Assessment

Identification of the Proposed Action

    The proposed action would renew Facility Operating License No. R-
102 for a period of twenty years from the date of issuance of the 
renewed license. The proposed action is in accordance with the 
licensee's application dated February 21, 2007, as supplemented by 
letter dated November 9, 2009. In accordance with 10 CFR 2.109, the 
existing license remains in effect until the NRC takes final action on 
the renewal application.

Need for the Proposed Action

    The proposed action is needed to allow the continued operation of 
the AGN-201M reactor to routinely provide teaching, research, and 
services to numerous institutions for a period of twenty years.

Environmental Impacts of the Proposed Action

    The NRC has completed its safety evaluation of the proposed action 

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issue a renewed Facility Operating License No. R-102 to allow continued 
operation of the AGN-201M reactor and concludes there is reasonable 
assurance that the AGN-201M reactor will continue to operate safely for 
the additional period of time. The details of the NRC staff's safety 
evaluation will be provided with the renewed license that will be 
issued as part of the letter to the licensee approving its license 
renewal application. This document contains the environmental 
assessment of the proposed action.
    The University of New Mexico is located in Albuquerque, New Mexico. 
The AGN-201M reactor is housed in the Nuclear Energy Laboratory (NEL) 
located near the southwest corner of the University campus. The NEL is 
primarily surrounded by residential areas to the west and south and the 
University campus to the east and north. According to the 2000 census, 
the population density within a radial distance of one mile from the 
NEL is 5,352.9 persons per square mile. The nearest permanent residence 
is 160 meters (174 yards) from the site and the nearest dormitory is 
724 meters (792 yards).
    The NEL is a one-story concrete structure with six feet of earth 
between one foot thick concrete walls on the south and west sides. The 
north and east walls are poured concrete approximately one foot thick. 
The roof of the building is three feet of earth between five-inch thick 
concrete slabs. A portion of the roof is five feet of earth between 
five-inch thick concrete slabs. The only outside windows in the 
building are located in the entrance doors.
    The AGN-201M reactor is a solid, homogeneous thermal reactor, used 
for teaching and training of students. The reactor is operated in a 
sealed container at a maximum licensed power of 5.0 watts. The reactor 
core uses graphite-coated uranium microspheres enriched in uranium-235, 
dispersed in a polyethylene matrix. The reactor core consists of nine 
fuel discs that are separated at the mid-plane by a thin aluminum 
baffle. Because of the small fissile material content and low operation 
power level, the fission product inventory in the core is negligible. 
The core is contained in a gas-tight aluminum cylindrical tank. The 
AGN-201M reactor has two safety rods, one coarse control rod, and one 
fine control rod. The two safety rods and the coarse control rod are 
fuel-loaded while the loading of the fine control rod depends on the 
standard loading in use at the time. In all cases, inserting a rod adds 
reactivity to the system.
    The licensee has not requested any changes to the facility design 
or operating conditions as part of this renewal request. Therefore, the 
proposed action should not increase the probability or consequences of 
accidents. No changes are being made in the types of effluents that may 
be released off site. There should be no increase in occupational or 
public radiation exposure. Therefore, license renewal should not change 
the environmental impact of facility operation. Data from the last five 
years of operation was assessed to determine the projected radiological 
impact of the facility on the environment during the period of the 
renewed license. Based on this evaluation, the NRC staff concluded that 
continued operation of the reactor should not have a significant 
environmental impact.

I. Radiological Impact

    No environmental effects should result from use of this reactor. 
The AGN-201M reactor has a dry core of uranium-impregnated 
polyethylene, sealed in an aluminum tank. Because of the form of the 
fuel and the lack of fission product inventory, failure of equipment or 
release of the fuel to the outside environment will not directly or 
indirectly endanger the public health and safety. A probabilistic risk 
assessment review of the reactor (ANS Transactions, Vol. 65, p. 132-
133, 1992) indicated that ``in the unlikely event of release to the 
environment, a total whole body dose rate of 1.61 x 10-5 
mrem/sec in the form of a radioactive plume has been calculated for 
persons located in the vicinity.'' This indicates that even the maximum 
hypothetical release accident does not endanger the public health and 
    The core is surrounded by a 20 cm thick high density (1.75 gram/
cm\3\) graphite reflector followed by a 10 cm thick lead gamma shield. 
The core and part of the graphite reflector are sealed in a fluid-tight 
aluminum core tank designed to contain any fission gases that might 
leak from the core. A review of the licensee's annual reports from 
2000-2007, excluding the report for the period July 2002 through June 
2003 which was not available, reveals that there was no liquid 
radioactive waste released from the facility nor was there any solid 
waste released. In addition, no environmental radiation surveys were 
required to be performed outside of the facility.
    Personnel exposures received during the same time period were below 
50 mrem per person with the majority of the personnel receiving below 5 
mrem. No changes in reactor operation that would lead to an increase in 
occupational dose are expected as a result of license renewal.
    Radiation monitoring instrumentation available to the reactor 
operators includes console-mounted meters and a portable survey meter. 
There are remote area monitors with automatic alarms installed to 
monitor gamma levels at the reactor console, checkpoint three (the 
south side of the reactor), reactor top, and in the general lab area 
(near the east door). All of the detectors are energy-compensated 
Geiger Mueller tubes. There will be no changes to the licensed program 
that would affect off-site radiation and contamination levels.

II. Non-Radiological Impact

    The AGN-201M reactor is conductively cooled and requires no liquid 
or auxiliary cooling system. The removable thermal column tank permits 
access to the core tank. The thermal column tank is normally filled 
with water to provide shielding. The tank can be filled with graphite 
if a thermal column is desired. The steel thermal column tank acts as 
secondary containment for the core tank and is fluid tight. The water 
tank is the third and outermost of the fluid tight containers. It is 
198 cm in diameter and made of steel. It holds 1000 gallons of water 
and forms the fast neutron shield. The water in the tank contains 
chromium. To date, the water has never been removed from the tank and 
there are no plans to do so. The water will be drained in the event the 
reactor is decommissioned and removal of the water will be handled by 
University of New Mexico Radiation Safety. Finally, there is a 60 cm 
concrete block shield on the front of the reactor tank and 40 cm 
concrete block shields on the sides and back. There is no shielding on 
the top of the reactor tank.
    Release of thermal effluents from the AGN-201M reactor will not 
have a significant effect on the environment.

Environmental Effects of Accidents

    Accident scenarios are discussed in Appendix A of the University of 
New Mexico's Safety Analysis Report. The maximum hypothetical accident 
is a nuclear excursion resulting from a 2% instantaneous increase of 
reactivity. The total radiation dose to a person next to the reactor 
would be approximately one rem; therefore, the worst-case occupational 
doses resulting from this accident would be below the limit of 5 rem or 
0.05 Sieverts (Sv) specified in 10 CFR 20.1201. Worst-case doses to 
members of the general public would be

[[Page 27374]]

below the limit of 0.1 rem (1 mSv) specified in 10 CFR 20.1301. The 
proposed action will not increase the probability or consequences of 

National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Considerations

I. Endangered Species Act (ESA)

    The site occupied by the AGN-201M reactor does not contain any 
Federally- or State-protected fauna or flora, nor do the AGN-201M 
reactor effluents impact the habitats of any such fauna or flora.

II. Costal Zone Management Act (CZMA)

    The site occupied by the AGN-201M reactor is not located within any 
managed coastal zones, nor do the AGN-201M reactor effluents impact any 
managed costal zones.

III. National Historical Preservation Act (NHPA)

    The NHPA requires Federal agencies to consider the effects of their 
undertakings on historic properties. The National Register of Historic 
Places (NRHP) lists several historical sites near the AGN-201M reactor 
site. The nearest historical site is Cottage Bakery, located 
approximately 0.1 miles from the AGN-201M reactor site boundary. Given 
the distance between the facility and Cottage Bakery, continued 
operation of the AGN-201M reactor will not impact this historical site.

IV. Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act (FWCA)

    The licensee is not planning any water resource development 
projects, including any of the modifications relating to impounding a 
body of water, damming, diverting a stream or river, deepening a 
channel, irrigation, or altering a body of water for navigation or 

V. Executive Order 12898--Environmental Justice

    The environmental justice impact analysis evaluates the potential 
for disproportionately high and adverse human health and environmental 
effects on minority and low-income populations that could result from 
the relicensing and the continued operation of the AGN-201M reactor. 
Disproportionately high and adverse human health effects occur when the 
risk or rate of exposure to an environmental hazard for a minority or 
low-income population is significant and exceeds the risk or exposure 
rate for the general population or for another appropriate comparison 
group. Disproportionately high environmental effects are impacts or 
risk of impacts on the natural or physical environment in a minority or 
low-income community that are significant and appreciably exceed the 
environmental impact on the larger community. Such effects may include 
ecological, cultural, economic, or social impacts. Minority and low-
income populations are subsets of the general public residing in the 
vicinity of the AGN-201M reactor, and all are exposed to the same 
health and environmental effects generated from activities at the AGN-
201M reactor.
    Minority Populations in the Vicinity of the AGN-201M reactor--
According to 2000 census data, 51.9 percent of the population 
(approximately 748,000 individuals) residing within a 50-mile radius of 
the AGN-201M reactor identified themselves as minority individuals. The 
largest minority group was Hispanic or Latino (310,000 persons or 41.4 
percent), followed by ``Some other race'' (141,500 or about 18.9 
percent). According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 51.7 percent of 
the Bernalillo County population identified themselves as minorities, 
with persons of Hispanic or Latino origin comprising the largest 
minority group (42.0 percent). According to census data 3-year average 
estimates for 2005-2007, the minority population of Bernalillo County, 
as a percent of total population, had increased to 55.6 percent.
    Low-Income Populations in the Vicinity of the AGN-201M reactor--
According to 2000 census data, approximately 19,900 families and 
100,800 individuals (approximately 10.4 and 13.5 percent, respectively) 
residing within a 50-mile radius of the AGN-201M reactor were 
identified as living below the Federal poverty threshold in 1999. The 
1999 Federal poverty threshold was $17,029 for a family of four.
    According to Census data in the 2005-2007 American Community Survey 
3-Year Estimates, the median household income for New Mexico was 
$41,042, while 18.4 percent of the state population and 14.2 percent of 
families were determined to be living below the Federal poverty 
threshold. Bernalillo County had a higher median household income 
average ($45,022) and lower percentages (14.9 percent) of individuals 
and families (11.1 percent) living below the poverty level, 
    Impact Analysis--Potential impacts to minority and low-income 
populations would mostly consist of radiological effects; however, 
radiation doses from continued operations associated with the license 
renewal are expected to continue at current levels and would be well 
below regulatory limits.
    Based on this information and the analysis of human health and 
environmental impacts presented in this environmental assessment, the 
proposed relicensing would not have disproportionately high and adverse 
human health and environmental effects on minority and low-income 
populations residing in the vicinity of the AGN-201M reactor.

Environmental Impacts of the Alternatives to the Proposed Action

    As an alternative to license renewal, the staff considered denial 
of the proposed action. If the Commission denied the application for 
license renewal, facility operations would end and decommissioning 
would be required with no significant impact on the environment. The 
environmental impacts of license renewal and this alternative action 
are similar. In addition, the benefits of teaching, research, and 
services provided by facility operation would be lost.

Alternative Use of Resources

    The proposed action does not involve the use of any different 
resources or significant quantities of resources beyond those 
previously considered in the issuance of the original Facility 
Operating License R-102 for the University of New Mexico AGN-201M dated 
September, 1966; and the issuance of Amendment No. 10 to R-102, which 
authorized the power uprate to 5.0 W(t) dated January 18, 1973.

Agencies and Persons Consulted

    In accordance with the Commission's stated policy, on November 25, 
2009, the staff consulted with the State of New Mexico's State Liaison 
Officer, regarding the environmental impact of the proposed action. A 
copy of the draft environmental assessment was provided to the State 
Liaison Officer for review. In a memorandum dated December 22, 2009, 
the Director of the Environmental Health Division of the State's 
Department of the Environment responded, expressing the State's support 
for the continued operation of the facility.

Finding of No Significant Impact

    On the basis of the environmental assessment, the NRC concludes 
that the proposed action will not have a significant effect on the 
quality of the human environment. Accordingly, the NRC has determined 
not to prepare an environmental impact statement for the proposed 

[[Page 27375]]

    For further details with respect to the proposed action, see the 
licensee's application dated February 21, 2007 [ML092170540], as 
supplemented by the letter dated November 9, 2009 [ML093410385]. 
Documents may be examined, and/or copied for a fee, at the NRC's Public 
Document Room (PDR), located at One White Flint North, 11555 Rockville 
Pike (1st Floor), Rockville, Maryland. Publicly available records will 
be accessible electronically from the Agencywide Documents Access and 
Management System (ADAMS) Public Electronic Reading Room on the NRC Web 
site http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/adams.html. Persons who do not have 
access to ADAMS or who encounter problems in accessing the documents 
located in ADAMS should contact the NRC PDR Reference staff at 1-800-
397-4209, or 301-415-4737, or send an e-mail to [email protected].

    Dated at Rockville, Maryland, this 5th day of May, 2010.

    For the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Kathryn M. Brock,
Chief, Research and Test Reactors Licensing Branch, Division of Policy 
and Rulemaking, Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation.
[FR Doc. 2010-11563 Filed 5-13-10; 8:45 am]