NRC to meet with NFS officials

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff will hold a public meeting on Thursday in Erwin to hear officials of Nuclear Fuel Services discuss the company's performance since it last met with the NRC in October.
   However, discussion of the controversial "BLEU Project" will not be on the meeting agenda, according to NRC. The Commission's statement issued on Friday said no discussions will be held at Thursday's meeting regarding the Blended Low Enriched Uranium Preparation Facility at the Erwin site. The Commission cited the requests made by local petitioners to the NRC legal staff for a formal hearing on the BLEU Project.
   The meeting notice issued also did not refer to whether NFS will respond to an NRC investigation report into allegations that a NFS supervisor falsified records regarding the transfer of low-enriched uranium.
   According to a letter dated Jan. 16, 2004 and sent to NFS President Kerry Schutt, NRC Region II Office of Investigations completed an inquiry into whether a NFS decommissioning supervisor deliberately falsified records related to the transfer of low-enriched uranium (LEU) solution.
   In the letter, written by Director of the Division of Fuel Facilities Inspection Douglas M. Collins, the Office of Investigations substantiated that the decommissioning supervisor willfully authorized the transfer of LEU solution without conducting required verifications and reviews prior to and/or during the transfer. However, the letter stated the Office of Investigations "did not substantiate that records were deliberately falsified."
   "Based on the results of the inspection, an apparent violation was identified and is being considered for escalated enforcement action. The apparent violation involved the transfer of LEU solution without conducting required verifications and reviews prior to and/or during the transfer," according to the letter.
   NRC had discussed the circumstances surrounding the alleged violation and the significance of the issue was discussed with members of NFS staff during an exit meeting conducted on Jan. 22, 2003, during a public meeting of Dec. 19, 2003, and again on Jan. 15, 2004, according to the letter of Collins.
   The letter further states that, "Based on the NRC's review, it appears that a causal factor for the first line supervisor's willful actions was a lack of clear direction from NFS management which tasked this individual to perform multiple oversight activities and conflicting work assignments (in this case, asbestos abatement activities and LEU solution transfer activities)."
   The letter invited a formal response by NFS to the NRC inspection and investigation reports.
   Citizens opposing the BLEU Project have petitioned the NRC for public hearing on the BLEU Project. Administrative Law Judge Alan Rosenthal, presiding officer of NRC's Atomic Safety and Licensing Board Panel, granted a 10-day extension to petitioner Kathy Helms-Hughes last week extending the hearing request through yesterday.
   In total, the three related license amendments have been submitted by NFS involving the construction of three new buildings -- the Uranyl Nitrate Building, the Oxide Conversion Building, and the Effluent Processing Building -- on a site referred to as the "BLEU Complex" at the company's site in Erwin.
   The first license amendment application, approved by NRC in June 2003, grants NFS the ability to store LEU-bearing material in its Uranyl Nitrate Building. Low-enriched uranyl nitrate solutions would be shipped from the Department of Energy's Savannah River site to NFS's Erwin site for storage in the UNB.
   A third license amendment, submitted by NFS on Oct. 23, 2003, seeks authority to construct and operate an Oxide Conversion Facility and related Effluent Processing Building, which is currently under review by the NRC. These facilities will use a process developed by NFS, partner Framatome ANP. The facilities will convert the liquid uranyl nitrate solution into a uranium oxide (UO2) powder, which will be further processed at Richland, Wash., into uranium fuel pellets for loading into fuel rods and assemblies for use by the Tennessee Valley Authority.
   The Star has learned that NRC officials in Region II have received complaints regarding the BLEU Project independent of the petitioners filings. A spokesman in NRC's Atlanta office confirmed last week that the commission had received a complaint allegation regarding the BLEU Project. The spokesperson declined to elaborate on when the new complaint was received or by whom it was filed.
   Thursday's meeting will begin at 8 a.m. at the NFS Training Center in Erwin on Jackson Love Highway near Exit 15 on Interstate 26. Members of the public are invited to observe the meeting and will have an opportunity to ask questions of the NRC staff before the meeting is over.