The NRC is considering what penalty if any should be imposed.
By Joe Walker email@example.com
The employee, in charge of an area control room in one of the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant's huge enrichment buildings, left for about a minute on the night of March 14. He returned just after resident NRC inspector Mary Lynne Thomas noticed he was missing and asked about his whereabouts.
NRC regulations require constant manning of control rooms, which monitor the processing of hazardous, mildly radioactive uranium hexafluoride, or UF6.
"It is a violation of NRC requirements and yes, it is a serious issue," said Viktoria Mitlyng, spokeswoman for the NRC regional office near Chicago. "We have talked to USEC about it, and they're taking corrective action."
Steps include changing work schedules during the current 2-month-old nuclear workers' strike and having managers "in the field" 24 hours a day, she said. "I think what is important here is we have re-emphasized to the company the expectations the commission has about how the control room stations are supposed to be manned."
Mitlyng said it will be at least two months before the NRC decides the ultimate outcome and penalty, if any.
USEC spokeswoman Elizabeth Stuckle said the operator didn't seek a qualified person to relieve him, although one was available. There were three other trained operators nearby, but none was qualified to replace the man as "official" operator, she said.
Stuckle said the operator was immediately counseled and temporarily reassigned. The man was disciplined and returned to his job after an investigation, she said.
During the strike involving 635 union employees, the worker is one of a few dozen people working six 12-hour days followed by two days off. Those hours meet NRC guidelines, but the company is watching for fatigue and is training more people to help lighten work schedules, Stuckle said.
Contract talks are set to resume Tuesday at or near the headquarters of Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers International in Nashville, Tenn. USEC had not decided whether to meet the union's request to have senior managers at the table, Stuckle said.
After long hours of bargaining earlier this week, the two sides were unable to agree on pension and health-care issues. PACE Local 5-550 President Leon Owens said that regardless of a settlement next week, the union will:
Hold a rally at 10 a.m. April 12 in the Farmers' Market area near the floodwall. Other unions are invited, as well as federal lawmakers and governors from Kentucky and Illinois. "It will be a rally or celebration, depending on what happens between now and then," he said.
Take a busload to the April 28 shareholders' meeting at USEC headquarters in Bethesda, Md. Owens plans to speak on behalf of the members who own company stock.