ERWIN — Last month, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission allowed Nuclear Fuel Services to resume operations on its uranium hexafluoride process line. Tuesday, officials from the NRC held a public meeting to discuss what led to this decision.
NFS received verbal and written authorization July 12 to resume operations on the line, also known as the UF6 process. The line was the last of areas voluntarily halted by NFS until more stringent safety measures could be implemented at the facility. This stand down of the facility’s process areas followed a December 2009 consultation between NRC and NFS officials.
In January 2010, the NRC issued a confirmatory action letter to NFS, outlining steps that were to be implemented at the facility before NRC authorization to allow resumption of operations on the halted areas was granted.
Since that time, NFS has received NRC authorization to resume operations on its Navy fuel process line, metal/uranium oxide line and uranium aluminum line following inspections of these areas.
Steve Vias with the NRC said NFS officials notified the NRC of its readiness to resume operations on the UF6 line March 24. An inspection was initiated May 2 and concluded July 12.
“After extensive inspections of their efforts in preparation for the uranium hexafluoride process startup against the objectives that we had set previously to starting the inspection, the NRC deliberated and determined that they had met all the objectives of the inspection and that NFS could operate the process line in safe manner and within the regulatory framework,” Vias said.
Manuel Crespo, who served as team leader on the NRC’s Restart Readiness Assessment Team that inspected the UF6 line, said the objectives of the inspection were to verify that the “Actions Prior to Restart of Operations” outlined in the letter to NFS with regard to the UF6 line had been satisfactorily completed, that management issues spelled out in the letter had been addressed and that NFS was ready to resume operations on the process line.
While he said the RRAT team did note one minor violation regarding a procedure modification, he said NFS took appropriate corrective actions to address the issue. He also said NFS had completed steps in the letter with regard to the UF6 line, and a review of NFS procedures, maintenance, management oversight, and its corrective action demonstrated a readiness to safely restart the UF6 process.
NFS President Joseph G. Henry said now that the plant is fully operational, NFS officials will strive to sustain safety performance improvements and NRC confirms that the facility is on the “right path.” Keys to this, Henry said, were continuous oversight of plant operations, its corrective action program and conservative operational decision-making.
He also said NFS conducts monthly managerial meetings, has implemented an equipment rehabilitation program and still relies on its Nuclear Safety Review Board for assistance.
“We are committed to sustaining that performance, but I am not so naive as to believe that there will not be bumps in the road as we do this,” Henry said. “What I do believe is that the programs and behaviors we have established will allow us to respond appropriately.”
When NRC and NFS officials last met in April, the NRC indicated two areas where NFS needed improvement — safety operations and facility support. Anthony Gody with the NRC said NFS has taken steps to address these issues, and the NRC has noted sustainment of improvements in those areas since that time. Still, he urged NFS officials to keep up the strides made at the facility.
“You must continue to operate safely,” Gody said to NFS officials. “You must continue to implement the programs that you have put in place. Vigilance is important, constant vigilance. We’re concerned that complacency could set in and you could lose ground. So we’re cautiously optimistic that NFS is implementing sustained programs that would result in sustained improvements. It is imperative that you not take anything for granted.”