Environment News Service

AmeriScan: May 23, 2001


COLLEGE STATION, Texas, May 23, 2001 (ENS) - The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has proposed a fine of $2,400 against the Texas Engineering Experiment Station/Texas A&M University System's Nuclear Science Center for failure to secure a shipping container with radioactive material inside.

The error could have resulted in transportation workers receiving radiation exposure in excess of federal limits.

The shipment, containing radioactive Bromine-82 with a 35 hour half life, was made last December 4 from the Nuclear Science Center, which operates a small nuclear research reactor, to Tru-Tec Services Inc., a company that performs industrial testing. When the shipment arrived in St. Croix, the Virgin Islands, on December 8, the shipping container was found unsecured with the radioactive liquid Bromine-82, packaged in three small containers, resting in a recessed area on top.

The 750 pound shipping container should be secured shut with the radioactive material shielded. A number of transportation companies were involved in this shipment.

Without appropriate shielding, any individuals standing within a few feet of the Bromine-82 for a few minutes could have received a radiation dose greater than 0.1 rem, which is the federal limit for exposure from licensed material for members of the public. This amount of radiation is not considered sufficient to cause acute health effects.

People receive an average of 0.3 rem from natural sources during a year, and radiation workers may receive up to an additional five rem a year from licensed material.

The NRC investigation, while acknowledging the realistic likelihood that someone could have been exposed, did not find any individuals who could be verified as having received a radiation exposure in excess of the limit.

The NRC staff concluded that the failure of the Nuclear Science Center to install a securing device on the shipping container was one of the causes of the incident. The NRC classified the violations as Severity Level II on a four level scale, with Level I being the most severe.

NRC officials decided to reduce the assessed fine by half because the error by the Nuclear Science Center was just one of the contributors to this incident and the Center took corrective actions. These actions included suspending radioactive shipments, a prompt evaluation of the incident, increased management supervision of shipping activities, and improved training of people involved in shipping.

Environment News Service (ENS) 2001. All Rights Reserved.