Federal regulators have cited two violations against an experimental nuclear facility under construction at the Savannah River Site in Aiken County, including the apparent failure to properly conduct inspections.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission last week cited the Mixed Oxide Fuel (MOX) Fabrication Facility’s lead contractor as work slowly continues on the site that will eventually convert plutonium into nuclear fuel. The NRC’s findings were based on a July 6 inspection. The Augusta Chronicle first reported the findings on Friday.
While lead contractor CB&I Areva MOX Services was specifically cited in the findings, the violations actually involved a construction subcontractor and what regulators believed was a failure to properly inspect some of the work that subcontractor performed.
Specifically, the NRC said MOX Services failed to show “objective evidence” that it had done the necessary inspections of manual welds in a support ledger for a part of the facility that will purify plutonium, according to the letter. The NRC said that failure to follow through with the subcontractor’s work led to violations in around 100 ledger assemblies that had deficient welds.
The director of the nuclear watchdog SRS Watch Tom Clements said he is concerned it took federal inspectors to find a problem that should have been caught by MOX Services. “It’s good that the NRC found this problem now and it has to be corrected. But the bigger issue is why didn’t the quality control program of the contractor… catch this?”
NRC inspectors said there were no nuclear safety issues with the violations, although there is currently no nuclear material at the facility until construction is complete. The agency also said it found no evidence MOX Services intentionally falsified documents on the ledger assemblies and welds, instead attributing the problems to inadequate training and “vague work instruction.”
The facility is still years away from opening. MOX was originally supposed to be operating by September 2016, but a series of construction problems, cost overruns, and lack of committed buyers have delayed work so that it is unlikely to finish before 2019. Costs have since ballooned to at least $12 billion, according to the Energy Department. But levels of White House and congressional funding the past few years are not high enough to reach that amount. The state of South Carolina is also suing the Energy Department over a 2003 agreement that promised to either process or remove the plutonium on site by January of this year.