ERWIN — Aside from a few violations determined to be of “low safety significance,” Nuclear Fuel Services operated safely and securely in 2012, according to officials with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
NRC representatives met with NFS officials on Monday at the Unicoi County Courthouse to publicly discuss the Erwin facility’s licensee performance review for the 2012 calendar year.
During the year, the NRC assessed NFS performance in several areas, including safety operations, radiological controls, facility support and special topics, which include items such as license submittals and deviations from commitments.
“Throughout 2012, you conducted the licensed facility and licensed activities safely and securely, and in a manner that protected the public health and environment,” Mark Chitty with the NRC said to NFS officials. ”You maintained your performance such that no areas needing improvement were identified.”
The area of facility safeguards was also assessed by the NRC, but this assessment was not discussed publicly Monday due to these items being sensitive to the facility’s security.
While Chitty said no violations or items needing improvement were found in the areas of radiological controls, facility support or special topics, three violations were found in the area of safety operations in 2012. These included NFS’s failure to ensure the penetration of a firewall designated as an item for safety was controlled, and failure to ensure the structural support for storage columns were maintained in accordance with requirements as cracks on these supports were found.
Chitty said these cracks were not significant enough to challenge the integrity of the column support structure. The third violation, which was identified by NFS staff, involved an error in the results of a lab sample used to spark a series of nuclear criticality safety controls, Chitty said.
However, Chitty said these violations were of a low safety significance.
“To summarize, you had three violations of low safety significance, one of which your staff identified and corrected,” Chitty said. “The corrective actions you implemented for each of the violations was adequate. The response your management took with each issue was appropriate.”
NFS President Joseph Henry said 2011 was a “transformational year” for NFS, as the facility not only maintained a secure work environment, but also it continued to implement programs and processes to ensure the facility’s continued safety improvement. Henry said in 2012, several programs were implemented at NFS, including employee surveys, employee roundtables and focus groups, to continue improvements. He said NFS finished the year with sustained improvement and safety performance.
“More than ever, this year’s success shows that good safety is good business,” Henry said.
NFS Operations Director Christa Reed said she has seen an improved safety culture at NFS in her tenure with the company.
“In the three years I’ve been at NFS, I’ve seen a significant change in culture with regard to our questioning attitude and our willingness to stop,” she said.
Last year also saw the NRC’s decision to renew NFS’s operating license for an additional 25 years. NFS Engineering Director Ron Dailey said around $30 million in capital was invested in the facility last year and another $16 million will be invested this year.
NRC representatives also answered questions and received comments from members of the public in attendance. These questions ranged from property NFS has acquired in Erwin to how sinkhole activity may impact the facility to decommissioning concerns.
Karen Brackett urged the NRC to update its release regulations for its licensed facilities, as the Environmental Protection Agency recently updated its regulations on releases from steam-powered nuclear facilities.
Others, like Unicoi County resident Buzz Davies and Greene County resident Park Overall, voiced concern over the NRC’s oversight of NFS.
“How many violations do you think we should find acceptable?” Overall said.
“The Nuclear Regulatory Commission across this country, including this organization right here, has illegally removed the quality requirements from the licensee documents and you’re gambling with the lives of the people, and you’ve never provided adequate protection for anyone,” Davies said to NRC officials. “It’s a dog and pony show, and the whole bunch of you are drawing your pay and caring less for what happens to the people. And that’s why I think you belong in jail.”
Along with its baseline inspection, the NRC will be conducting additional inspections this year at NFS to see that the company has adhered to requirements spelled out in a confirmatory action letter issued to NFS in January 2010. This letter was sent following a December 2009 consultation between NRC and NFS officials, which came after two incidents occurred at the facility that fall led to the temporary shut down of several process areas.
Although he said NFS continues to operate safely, as it did in 2011, Alan Blamey warned NFS officials against complacency with regard to safety.
“We encourage NFS, like we do all licensees, to continue to seek improvements in all performance areas,” Blamey said.