NRC issues order to Westinghouse fuel facility

15 August 2017

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has issued a confirmatory order to Westinghouse following the May 2016 discovery of an accumulation of uranium-bearing material at a fuel fabrication facility. The regulator has said it will not issue a civil penalty or cite the company for violations because of the commitments Westinghouse has made under the order.

The accumulation of uranium-bearing material in a scrubber system, which is designed to remove unwanted material from a number of plant processes, was discovered by plant employees during an annual maintenance shutdown at the Columbia facility in South Carolina in May 2016. Analysis of the material indicated that the scrubber contained the equivalent of about 100 kg of uranium, exceeding the mass limit of 29 kg set in its criticality safety evaluation. The scrubber, which had already been returned to service by the time the analysis was completed, was shut down on the discovery that the mass limit had been exceeded.

The NRC in August 2016 issued a confirmatory action letter, outlining Westinghouse's commitments to ensure the causes of the uranium build-up were adequately identified and evaluated, and to implement appropriate corrective actions to improve the performance of its nuclear criticality safety program. Some of those actions have already been completed and others have been incorporated into the new confirmatory order.

The NRC carried out an augmented inspection at the facility in September 2016, which identified several violations of regulatory policy, with a follow-up inspection in February 2017. Westinghouse then elected to participate in the NRC's Alternative Dispute Resolution process, in which a neutral third party assists in reaching an agreement on enforcement actions. The confirmatory order, dated 9 August, is the result of a settlement under that process.

"Under the order, Westinghouse has taken and agreed to take a number of corrective actions, including a survey of the safety culture among employees at the site, improvements and modifications to scrubbers and other systems to minimise the likelihood of a similar accumulation, and development of additional methods to provide early indications of abnormal accumulations," the NRC said.

"In consideration of the commitments contained in the order, the NRC will not issue a civil penalty or cite the company for the violations, although Westinghouse officials acknowledged that the violations occurred," it continued. "The company has also agreed to provide the NRC with a notification letter once it has completed the terms of the order and the basis for concluding that the order has been satisfied."

The Columbia Fuel Fabrication Facility is part of Westinghouse's fuel and components manufacturing business with commercial nuclear fuel manufacturing facilities, product engineering and testing laboratories, and fuel marketing and contract administration functions at the South Carolina site. The company received NRC authorisation to restart operations in the affected area of the facility in October 2017.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News

Filed under: Regulation, Nuclear fuel, USA