The safety analysis was conducted by a group of nuclear independent experts known as the Safety Culture Board of Advisors, or SCuBA, according to NFS, but whom have not been identified individually. The analysis follows a series of safety and security incidents in the plant from 2004-2006 including an incident that posed the threat of a nuclear criticality in March 2006.
The 2006 spill involved about 35 liters of highly enriched uranium solution that leaked into a protected glovebox, then onto the floor in a facility where highly enriched uranium is “downblended” to a lower enrichment for use in commercial reactors, including TVA’s Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant in Alabama. NFS also manufactures fuel for the U.S. nuclear-powered submarines.
The safety breach did not come to light until it last year as part of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s annual report to Congress because of a policy put into place following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that such documents be withheld from the public under a so-called “official use only” policy.
Following the disclosure and as part of a negotiation with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission over the incident, NFS officials agreed to a third-party safety analysis of the plant and work with the NRC to improve conditions.
According to the SCuBA report, the plant is operating within NRC minimum guidelines. “On the other hand,” the report stated, “the SCUBA team identified that most components of the NFS-Erwin Safety Culture fail to meet (or only minimally meet) NRC ‘regulatory expectations.’”
NFS said it is already working to correct the problems and, along with the SCuBA report provided a safety strategy to the NRC, outlining plans for improving operations at the plant. NFS has stated that improvements will be in place by 2011.
The report also follows a release by the NRC last week of event reports regarding safety and procedural issues at NFS’s Erwin plant as well as at BWXT Technologies, a nuclear fuel fabrication plant in Lynchburg, Va.
Among the reports released were two fires, failure of safety controls to “prevent a hydrogen explosion” in the highly enriched uranium downblending portion of the facility, criticality system alarm failures and failure of other monitors and systems. Just weeks after the March 2006 spill, two incidents were reported involving drug and alcohol related incidents. In the first case, an unidentified facility supervisor was found in violation of fitness for duty due to “failure to adhere to five-hour alcohol abstinence requirements”. In the second incident, just eight days later a “non-licensed supervisor” tested positive for illegal drugs.
More details as they develop online and in Tuesday’s News Sentinel: www.knoxnews.com/news/2008/may/19/nuclear-fuel-services-missed-safety-standards/