WASHINGTON, July 5 — A factory that makes uranium fuel for nuclear reactors had a spill so bad it kept the plant closed for seven months last year and became one of only three events in all of 2006 serious enough for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to include in an annual report to Congress.
After an investigation, the commission changed the terms of the factory’s license and said the public had 20 days to request a hearing on the changes.
But no member of the public ever did. In fact, no member of the public could find out about the changes. The document describing them, including the notice of hearing rights for anyone who felt adversely affected, was stamped “official use only,” meaning that it was not publicly accessible.
“Official use only” is a category below “Secret.” Documents in that category are not technically classified but are kept from the public.
The agency would not even have told Congress which factory was involved were it not for the efforts of Gregory B. Jaczko, one of the five commissioners. Mr. Jaczko identified the company, Nuclear Fuel Services of Erwin, Tenn., in a memorandum that became part of the public record. His memorandum said other public documents would allow an informed person to deduce that the factory belonged to Nuclear Fuel Services.
Such secrecy by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is now coming under attack by influential members of Congress. These lawmakers argue that the agency is withholding numerous documents about nuclear facilities in the name of national security, but that many withheld documents are not sensitive...
Well, maybe not for national security, but that company would have gotten in all kinds of trouble! Good thing Bu$hCo looks out for the rights of its ba$e!
...Additional details of the 2006 event are coming to light now because of a letter sent Tuesday to the nuclear agency by the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The committee chairman, Representative John D. Dingell, and the chairman of the oversight subcommittee, Representative Bart Stupak, both Democrats of Michigan, say the commission “went far beyond” the need to protect security information by keeping documents about Nuclear Fuel Services, a private company, from the public.
The agency, the congressmen said, “has removed hundreds of otherwise innocuous documents relating to the N.F.S. plant from public view.”
Mr. Jaczko, in a telephone interview, said, “Ultimately, we regulate on behalf of the public, and it’s important for them to have a role.” He said he thought other information about Nuclear Fuel Services that should be public had been marked “official use only.”
With a resurgence of nuclear plant construction expected after a 30-year hiatus, agency officials say frequently that they are trying to strike a balance between winning public confidence by regulating openly and protecting sensitive information...
Balance, that's what's needed to safeguard the rights of Free Enterprise. Just ask Fox News, the Fair and Balanced mouthpiece of Sauron.
As laid out by the commission’s report to Congress and other sources, the event at the Nuclear Fuel Service factory was discovered when a supervisor saw a yellow liquid dribbling under a door and into a hallway. Workers had previously described a yellow liquid in a “glove box,” a sealed container with gloves built into the sides to allow a technician to manipulate objects inside, but managers had decided it was ordinary uranium.
In fact, it was highly enriched uranium that had been declared surplus from the weapons inventory of the Energy Department and sent to the plant to be diluted to a strength appropriate for a civilian reactor.
In a puddle, the uranium is not particularly hazardous, but if it formed a more spherical shape, the commission says, it could become a “critical mass,” a quantity and shape of nuclear fuel sufficient to sustain a chain reaction, in this case outside a reactor.
According to the letter sent by the lawmakers, the puddle, containing about nine gallons, reached to within four feet of an elevator pit. Had it flowed into the pit and reached a depth of several inches, it would have been in a shape that might have supported a chain reaction. The letter from the congressmen says the agency’s report suggests “that it was merely a matter of luck that a criticality accident did not occur.”
If the material had gone critical, “it is likely that at least one worker would have received an exposure high enough to cause acute health effects or death,” the commission said...
At least. Not to mention the solution might have heated to boiling, concentrating the solution even further, increasing the intensity of the chain reaction...
You normally find highly chemically enriched uranium in yellowcake, but this wouldn’t usually be isotopically enriched for the fissile isotope, nor hot enoguh to be alarming.
Oxidized uranium behaves somewhat like oxidized lead. It really likes biological matter- in fact, uranyl acetate is a standard tissue stain in electron microscopy. It’s quite reactive chemically. But it’s not fissile.
For a liquid solution of uranium to be isotopically enriched and high enough chemical concentration to have the potential of going critical… my gawd, that stuff was hot!
I’ll wager the flooring, the door, and the walls of the entire room it leaked from are now cooling in pieces in a radwaste pit somewhere in Tennessee, possibly on site, because they’d be too damned massive and hot to cart off anywhere else.
An anonymous commenter at Correntewire notes:
Savannah River Site in SC ships weapons surplus uranium to Erwin, TN for use in TVA reactors:
But note that in that speech the highly-enriched uranium is supposed to be diluted to “low enriched uranium” at SRS before shipment.
A ppt at:
shows that SRS down-blends solution & alloyed metal material, while NFS in Erwin down-blends metal and alloy compounds (slide 11)...
Incidently, it looks like the Powerpoint link has been taken down. Need to know and all of that.