US NRC seeks comment on Westinghouse Nuclear Fuel Fabrication Facility licence renewal11 August 2021
The draft statement concludes environmental and socioeconomic impacts from renewing the operating licence for 40 years would be small for most environmental resource areas, with small to moderate impacts primarily in groundwater on the plant site. The report details measures Westinghouse has implemented under a consent agreement with South Carolina to mitigate the effects of spills during past operations, and two new licence conditions regarding environmental monitoring to monitor, mitigate, and prevent future contamination. Comments will be accepted until 20 September. The NRC staff intends to hold a public meeting during the comment period to present its findings and accept comments.
In 2017, NRC issued a confirmatory order to Westinghouse after the discovery in May 2016 of accumulated uranium-bearing material at the Columbia Fuel Fabrication Facility. NRC said it would not issue a civil penalty or cite the company for violations because of the commitments Westinghouse had 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, had been 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 outlined 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 had already been completed and others had 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 at the time.