A nuclear fuel plant outside Columbia has agreed to make changes after federal inspectors dinged them last week for an excessive uranium buildup in an air scrubber.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Friday outlined several corrective actions it says are needed before the Westinghouse plant can begin operating again. Westinghouse officials said they voluntarily shut the plant down after amounts of uranium considered above-normal had accumulated on an air scrubber at the facility. While the scrubbers are designed to have some amount of uranium as a result of cleaning the air, NRC inspectors had considered the find “excessive.”
NRC spokesman Roger Hannah said the uranium buildup was not enough to be a health risk, but there was still potential danger to employees. “The biggest issue you have in a fuel facility of this type that handles enriched uranium is something called a ‘criticality,'” he told South Carolina Radio Network. “That basically means a chain reaction in the uranium that could cause essentially a small explosion.”
Hannah said Westinghouse first reported the problem itself last month and is now cooperating with the NRC. A company spokeswoman said Westinghouse will make the changes needed.
Under the corrective actions, Westinghouse must review how it maintains the scrubbers and make changes to ensure better maintenance, inspections and training for its employees. The company must also hire an external nuclear criticality safety expert to work with Westinghouse on these corrective actions.
The Columbia Site plant manufactures fuel assemblies that are used to power nuclear plants. More than 1,000 people work at the site, including about 170 who have been temporarily out of work since the shutdown began.