By BryAN GENTRY
Published: September 28, 2009
A Babcock & Wilcox Company official explained how uranium got into an unchecked container at a local nuclear fuel facility in Julyduring a public review of the company’s safety record Monday night.
Federal regulators’ annual review of B&W focused somewhat on that incident, which prompted a low-level emergency declaration, though it occurred after the official review period ended in June.Roger Cochrane, general manager of the B&W Nuclear Operations Group, called the July incident “a disappointing event that’s not indicative of our typical performance.”
The annual public review officially covered Nuclear Regulatory Commission inspections at B&W from June 2008 through June 2009.
In those inspections, “we found that there were no areas needing improvement,” said Charles Payne, branch chief of the NRC Division of Fuel Facility Inspection.Because of the clean inspections, the NRC plans to conduct its basic 1,700 hours of inspections at B&W this year. In the last inspection year inspectors spent an additional 88 hours inspecting B&W’s Campbell County facility because of previous problems, Payne said.
Once the NRC finishes its report on the July 15 alert, it could increase the inspection hours at B&W this year. “If we do so, we will obviously be in touch with you,” Payne said. “We will document it in a letter and it will be publicly available.”
Cochrane said that the July 15 incident that led to an alert was caused by an oversight.
In that incident, uranium was discovered in the cooling reservoir of a saw that cuts nuclear fuel components.
Cochrane said that B&W used to check that reservoir regularly to make sure it did not contain uranium or too much fluid. In 2004 the company installed a new cooling system that does not use the reservoir. B&W stopped monitoring the reservoir, not realizing fluid could still get into it, he said.
The reservoir should have been “disabled” by filling it with concrete or putting holes in it so it would not collect liquid, but it was not disabled, he said.
He said that the discovery of uranium in the reservoir shows that B&W does train its employees to keep an eye out for problems. “It didn’t appear right, so the operator did the right thing and brought it to his management’s attention,” Cochrane said.
Once the uranium was discovered, B&W declared an alert, the NRC’s lowest emergency level. The alert was active for about five hours until B&W concluded there was not enough uranium there to cause an explosion.
Since then, B&W has reinstated its program of checking that reservoir regularly, Cochrane said. After verifying how the uranium got into it, the reservoir will be disabled, he said.
B&W has also checked its documentation on other equipment changes to make sure there have been no similar oversights in other areas, Cochrane said.
Gene Cobey, the deputy director of the NRC’s Division of Fuel Facility Inspection, said the agency’s report on the July incident should be released in mid-October.
The meeting was held at Lynchburg City Hall. About 20 people attended, mostly B&W and NRC officials.