Funds sought for cleanup at UA nuclear reactor test site via The Commercial

FAYETTEVILLE — Cleanup at a nuclear reactor test site built in the late 1960s began this year after three decades of waiting. Thousands of pounds of low-level radioactive waste have since been trucked away from rural Washington County to specialized waste facilities outside the state.

Now the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville, the site owner, faces the possibility of another delay as it awaits news of federal funding to finish the cleanup of the Southwest Experimental Fast Oxide Reactor, often referred to as SEFOR.

“We need $10.1 million dollars in FY 18 appropriations,” said Mike Johnson, UA’s associate vice chancellor for facilities, referring to the federal fiscal year.

If the money comes through by mid-January, the final stage of remediation — removal of the reactor core, the radioactive heart of the site — will begin without interruption, he said. Avoiding any delays means that approximately 620 acres about 20 miles southwest of Fayetteville could be cleared for use without restrictions by the end of next year, Johnson said.

Without the money, however, UA would have a decision to make with no other funding sources lined up, Johnson said. The university could anticipate federal funding coming through in the near future. The specialized cleanup team under contract with UA might be kept waiting in the wings at a cost of roughly $200,000 for up to a year, Johnson said.


On Wednesday, a community meeting was held at the Strickler Fire Department to describe work done at the site over the previous three months. Dean Wheeler, project manager for Utah-based Energy Solutions, said about 16,000 pounds of material with some radioactivity, including extension rods used to handle reactor fuel when the site was operating, had been trucked away earlier in the month.

Apart from the main reactor core and reflectors, “all of the other (radioactive) waste is now gone,” Wheeler said, with thousands of pounds of material also trucked away earlier in the year. Outbuildings have also been demolished.


The site ceased operations in the early 1970s, with UA taking ownership in 1975 to use it for research. By 1986 the site fell out of use.


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