NFS faces $60,000 fine for nuclear material violations

By Kathy Helms-Hughes
Nuclear Fuel Services Inc. in Erwin could be fined $60,000 for violations related to special nuclear material that went unaccounted for at the Erwin facility for about six weeks in June 2001.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission's Office of Enforcement said last week that it intended to issue a Notice of Violation and proposed imposing a civil penalty in the amount of $60,000 on Friday, Oct. 17. The notice said the action was based on seven violations which have been categorized as one Severity Level III problem.
"This problem represents a significant breakdown in the implementation of the licensee's material control and accounting system in that a substantial amount of Category 1A Strategic Special Nuclear Material (SSNM) went unaccounted for at the Erwin facility for a period of approximately six weeks beginning in June of 2001," the notice states.
While only mildly radioactive, "special nuclear material," or SNM, includes some fissile material that in concentrated form, can be the primary ingredients of nuclear explosives. When the material is in greater than

  1. formula quantities
, it is defined as "strategic special nuclear material" (SSNM). The uranium-235 content of low-enriched uranium can be enriched to make highly enriched uranium, the primary ingredient of an atomic bomb, according to the NRC.
NFS now is in the process of amending its Special Nuclear Material license so that it can convert 33 metric tons of highly enriched uranium into fuel for Tennessee Valley Authority commercial nuclear reactors.
The Office of Enforcement said that based on multiple failures in the NFS case, the incidents could have led to the undetected diversion of strategic special nuclear material "and there would have been no record providing evidence that it was missing." NFS also was issued three Severity Level IV violations.