Friday, July 17, 2009

NRC responds to scare at B&W nuclear plant in Va.

NEW YORK, July 17 (Reuters) - The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission this week responded to a scare at Babcock & Wilcox's nuclear facility in Lynchburg, Virginia, that turned out to be non-threatening, a spokesman for the NRC said Friday.

B&W staff declared an alert - the lowest level of NRC emergency classifications for fuel facilities - after identifying a potential radiation issue in the uranium recovery area.

A saw used to cut fuel components was found to have discharged oil into a container with an unknown amount of highly enriched uranium.

The potential threat was due to the possibility of "bad geometry," said Joey Ledford, a spokesman for the NRC.

A chain reaction resulting in either a "burst" or sustained release of radiation can occur when highly enriched uranium comes together in sufficient quantity or in a container of "correct" shape, the NRC said in a release.

The oil and metal shavings were not supposed to be together in the container.

After B&W analyzed the material, it determined only a small amount of uranium was in the oil. The incident did not pose any harm to the workers or public.

"Since the amount of uranium in the oil was unknown, it was important to take a conservative approach," said NRC Region II Administrator Luis Reyes in a release.

The NRC spokesman could not say what kind of metal B&W was cutting. Officials at B&W were not immediately available to comment on what they were cutting.

The Lynchburg Nuclear Operations Group facility is one of only two private U.S. facilities licensed to possess and process highly enriched uranium, according to the B&W web site.

Highly enriched uranium is used to power naval submarines and aircraft carriers, among other things.

B&W is a subsidiary of engineering and construction company McDermott International Inc (MDR.N) of Houston. (Reporting by Scott DiSavino; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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