The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun

USEC tries to correct NRC safety concerns

By Joe Walker

USEC Inc. managers met Wednesday with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission trying to resolve apparent nuclear safety violations for making unauthorized changes at uranium enrichment plants here and near Portsmouth, Ohio.

Melanie Galloway, chief of the NRC Enforcement Section, said the matter is "very detailed and technical" and could take at least six weeks to resolve. If USEC is found to have committed violations, the company could be fined, depending on the severity of the violations, she said.

She said enforcement conferences, which are common for nuclear facilities, typically involve one issue, but this involves seven four at Paducah and three at Portsmouth.

"It has to do with procedure and process review," said NRC spokeswoman Pam Alloway-Mueller. "It's not anything that poses an immediate public health concern."

Elizabeth Stuckle, USEC spokeswoman, said the commission's stance is that seven of 150 changes made at the two plants required NRC approval. At the conference, USEC addressed the seven issues, saying the changes were permissible and posed no threat to safety, she said.

A March 17 NRC letter to USEC President and Chief Executive Officer William "Nick" Timbers cites the issues, six of which were raised as part of the 1999 annual review as part of the plants' certificates of operation.

Among the questionable changes at Paducah was extending from a half-second to two seconds the time alarms sound after detecting an uncontrolled nuclear reaction called a criticality. NRC said the change was unjustified because it posed an increased radiation risk to workers near a criticality.