ERWIN — The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has given authorization to Nuclear Fuel Services to resume operation on its uranium hexafluoride line, the last remaining process area that had its operations previously halted at the Erwin facility.
On Tuesday, the NRC sent a letter to NFS officials notifying them of the approval. NRC Senior Public Affairs Officer Roger Hannah said the authorization to restart was given following the completion of a thorough restart readiness inspection. Based upon that inspection, Hannah said the NRC’s inspection came to the conclusion there was “reasonable assurance” the process line could be operated safely.
“We’re going to keep inspecting it and keep the oversight during the initial operation of the process,” Hannah said, “and if there’s any change in the status, then we told them that we certainly want to be notified of that as well.”
Operations on the uranium hexafluoride line, also known as the UF6 line, as well as operations on several other process areas, were voluntarily halted in December 2009 following a consultation between NRC and NFS officials and were to be stood down until more stringent safety measures were implemented at the Erwin plant. This followed two incidents in fall 2009, including an October incident at a bowl-cleaning station that caused the generation of nitrogen compound fumes and damaged piping. No employees were injured in either incident.
In January 2010, the NRC issued a confirmatory action letter to NFS that outlined measures to be addressed and implemented prior to the restart of the halted process lines.
Since that time, NFS has received authorization to resume operations on its Navy fuel process line, metal/uranium oxide line and uranium aluminum line following inspections of these areas.
Hannah said NFS officials requested an inspection of the readiness to restart operations on the uranium hexafluoride line in March. On-site inspections were completed in May and additional in-office inspections, such as inspections of paperwork, were completed in late June.
As with past restarts, NFS addressed matters spelled out in the CAL with regard to the uranium hexafluoride line, Hannah said. He said the inspection report is being finalized and is to be issued soon.
NFS spokeswoman Lauri Turpin said operations on the uranium hexafluoride line will not resume immediately, as NFS has other processing to take care of first, but she said the company is moving forward and preparing for the line’s resumption.
“Obviously we are glad the NRC ... concluded NFS is displaying a questioning attitude and that we are properly prioritizing safety,” Turpin said.
Turpin also added that NFS officials were glad the NRC has recognized the hard work put in by NFS employees.
“We’ve got a very technically competent and dedicated group of workers who are diligent in ensuring that we always make safety a priority,” she said.
NRC Public Affairs Officer Joey Ledford said a public meeting will be held later to discuss the NRC’s decision to allow operations on the line to resume. That meeting has not yet been formally scheduled.