The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) on 9 August issued a confirmatory order to Westinghouse Electric Company following the discovery in May 2016 of accumulated uranium-bearing material at its Columbia Fuel Fabrication Facility in South Carolina. NRC 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 facility. Analysis of the material indicated that the scrubber contained the equivalent of about 100kg of uranium, exceeding the mass limit of 29kg 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 again.
NRC’s confirmatory action letter outlines 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 programme. Some of those actions have already been completed and others have been incorporated into the new confirmatory order.
"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," 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."
NRC authorised restart of operations in the affected area of the facility in October.