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UA to get $1.9 million to start cleanup of SEFOR

By Tracie Dungan

This article was published July 22, 2009 at 11:34 a.m.

A deserted nuclear "breeder" reactor, owned by the University of Arkansas stands on a site approximately 20 miles south of the UA campus in this 1997 file photo.

— The University of Arkansas at Fayetteville has received word it will get the federal funds it needs for the first step in cleaning up its defunct nuclear reactor.

The university will get $1.9 million from the U.S. Department of Energy for a study that will determine what is required to clean up the Southwest Experimental Fast Oxide Reactor, or "SEFOR," UA officials announced Wednesday.

"This is news we've been waiting to hear for a long time," Collis Geren, the Fayetteville campus's vice provost for research, said in a news release.

SEFOR is near the Strickler community in Washington County, about 18 miles from Fayetteville.

In May 2008, Geren told the Democrat-Gazette that Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., had requested $2 million in federal fiscal 2009's Energy and Water Appropriations bill for a "characterization study," a required first step in the cleanup to determine feasibility and costs.

That was one of Lincoln's many attempts to get the federal government to clean up SEFOR, which UA acquired after it was deactivated and officials later regretted taking over.

SEFOR was a 20-megawatt, sodium-cooled nuclear test reactor built in 1968. Funded by the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, it was an experimental "breeder reactor" laboratory. The commission's partners were a consortium of 17 power companies that included Arkansas Power and Light Co. (now Entergy), the West German government and General Electric Co.

The nuclear reactor was shut down after the experimental program ended. Its core was removed in 1972 and UA acquired it in 1975, hoping it could use the facility as a research tool.

But that didn't happen, and the college became saddled with roughly $50,000 in annual maintenance costs.

Cleanup has been estimated to take 18 to 24 months.

Read tomorrow's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.

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