University Of Arkansas Updates Nuclear Reactor Site Clean Up Plans

STRICKLER (KFSM) -- The University of Arkansas detailed plans on the second stage of dismantling the decommissioned SEFOR nuclear reactor site in Strickler on Thursday (Dec. 15).

Phase one lasted from 2009 to 2011, but was halted thereafter as funding stalled. In 2014, the Department of Energy reviewed the property and put the estimated dismantling cost between $26.1 and $80 million.

Mike Johnson, associate vice chancellor for facilities at the U of A, said the project is expected to be completed for $26.1 million, which will be paid for by federal grants.

In October, the University of Arkansas received a $10.5 million grant from the energy department to resume deconstructing the facility for the first time since 2011.

The university held a public meeting in Strickler on Thursday (Dec. 15) to give residents an idea of how phase two will play out.

"We want to talk with our community out here who have been good neighbors for almost 50 years of SEFOR," Johnson said. "Let them know what's going on, ask questions, hopefully make them feel much more comfortable."

Strickler resident and fire chief Chris Coker attended the meeting.

He grew up with the nuclear reactor right down the road.

"It's just part of the community. Something we've always lived around," Coker said. "I'm sure there are some concerned citizens, but most of them just want to know what's going on."

Phase two is expected to wrap up by fall 2017, according to EnergySolutions. The company was tasked with implementing the first phase and will complete phases two and three.

"The footprint has already been shrunk," Johnson said. "Phase two will shrink it even further, and also validate a lot of the conditions inside the vessel itself so that when we get to phase three, we'll have a much better idea of what is truly there."

EnergySolutions doesn't expect to find any major levels of contamination when disassembling interior pieces, but they won't know for sure until testing that is part of phase two.

Receiving the remaining $16.6 million hinges on congressional approval, Johnson said. If appropriated, work could be completed by summer or fall 2018.

The U of A remains undecided on what it will do with the 640 acres after the nuclear site returns to a field.

Coker said he appreciated the transparency and open communication between EnergySolutions, the university and residents.

"I don't think there's any fear," Coker said. "But I would like to see it gone."

According to Johnson, additional public meetings will be held throughout 2017.