NRC to discuss safety performance at NFS next week

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   Officials with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission will meet with officials of Nuclear Fuel Services, Inc., in Erwin on Tuesday to discuss the agency's latest review of the facility's safety performance.
   According to the NRC, the safety review, which covers a period from Jan. 20, 2003 through Jan. 23, 2004, indicates that NFS has continued to safely conduct its activities. However, NRC officials said that improvement is needed in communication of facility safety information to workers and in management oversight for selected processes.
   The NRC review, which covers a period from January 20, 2003 through January 23, 2004, indicates that NFS has continued to safely conduct its activities.
   However, NRC officials said that improvement is needed in communication of facility safety information to workers and in management oversight for selected processes.
   In a letter to NFS President Kerry Shutt, NRC Region II Regional Administrator Luis Reyes wrote that NFS continued to conduct its activities safely as determined during the review period, but the annual review found that communication of facility safety information to workers, and management oversight for selected processes were areas needing improvement.
   "Incidents have occurred during the evaluation period where certain safety controls were not fully understood by workers," Reyes wrote. "NFS' performance and ongoing facility changes warrant increasing NRC's oversight with additional inspection effort, including the addition of a second resident inspector at your Erwin facility."
   Citing the review, Reyes listed areas NRC officials sought improvement by NFS.
   Among those areas the review reported that a detailed criticality safety analysis was not performed when changes to existing equipment and procedure changes were made in order to process licensed material where more than a safe mass existed and double batching was possible.
   NRC officials acknowledged at a safety review meeting with NFS officials in February that no emergency evacuation plan existed for the nearby residential areas around the Erwin site if a nuclear materials incident typically alerted through the site's criticality alarm system occurred.
   The review also cited storage limits for two containers of fissile material were exceeded when material was moved from one designated storage area to another by operators who did not know the NCS requirements for the new storage area.
   The NRC review also reported that approximately 25 grams of a material identified as "U-Metal" ignited inside of a glass vial after being shaken while a sample was being extracted. The investigation noted that in designing this process, "NFS had only focused on whether or not the material was pyrophoric, and had not utilized available industry experience and procedures on combustibility."
   At a review meeting conducted by NRC Region II officials in February, the agency announced its intention of adding a second on-site inspector at NFS.
   The on-site inspector is designated to review the NFS compliance with NRC regulations pertaining to the company's licensing and operations of nuclear materials. NRC officials acknowledged in February that the company's growing operations -- particularly the Blended Low Enriched Uranium (BLEU) Project -- were an impetus to add the second inspector.
   NFS has submitted three license amendment requests to alter the company's Special Materials License (SNM-124) to launch the BLEU Project. The first amendment sought to store low-enriched uranium-bearing materials in the Uranyl Nitrate Building (UNB) on the Erwin site. The second amendment sought authorization to downblend the high-enriched uranium to low-enriched uranium in the BLEU Preparation Facility (BPF).
   A third license amendment, submitted by NFS in October 2003, seeks authority to construct and operate an Oxide Conversion Building and related Effluent Processing Building. The amendment remains under review by the NRC.
   The meeting is scheduled to begin at 8 a.m. at the NFS Training Center in Erwin, located on Jackson Love Highway near Exit 15 on Interstate 181. The meeting is open to the public. NRC officials will be available prior to its conclusion to answer questions from interested observers. A second meeting following the 8 a.m. event will discuss material declared proprietary and will be closed to the public.