Originally created 07/11/97

Georgia Tech decides against restarting controversial reactor



ATLANTA (AP) - Georgia Tech's nuclear reactor will not be started up again, a decision that elates antinuclear groups who have protested the reactor's alleged lack of safety.

"It is a progressive decision," said Glenn Carroll of Georgians Against Nuclear Energy. "We hope we can assist Tech in conceiving of a responsible decommissioning plan that does not resort to land-filling the reactor parts."

Tech officials said Wednesday that the decision was based on the age of the 33-year-old reactor and the school's underutilization of the reactor for research and teaching.

The reactor, located at the Neely Nuclear Research Center in the heart of the Tech campus, was used for research before being shut down in November 1995 prior to the Olympics for security reasons. It was less than half a mile from the Olympic Village on the Tech campus.

The Atlanta university plans to submit a detailed plan and cost estimates within two years to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to decommission the 5 million-watt reactor.

The permanent shutdown is "the first step towards decommissioning," said Narl Davidson, acting dean of Tech's School of Engineering.

Three years ago, GANE and other antinuclear groups filed formal protests with the NRC over the agency's proposal to renew Tech's reactor operator license for another 20 years. They claimed the reactor was unsafe and unnecessary and that its bomb-grade uranium fuel was a potential target for terrorists.

But the NRC in May decided to renew Tech's license.

When Tech, the NRC and the Department of Energy chose to remove the uranium in the reactor prior to the Olympics, the fuel was hauled to the Savannah River Site near Augusta for storage. Replacement fuel for the reactor was never shipped to Tech, Davidson said.

The reactor opened in 1964 as a state-of-the-art research facility where engineers would train to operate commercial nuclear power plants and researchers would explore the frontiers of biology and materials sciences.

Now, with the nuclear industry nearly at a standstill, the construction of dozens of nuclear power plants has been delayed or canceled, sharply curtailing the need for nuclear engineers.