The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has leveled new criticisms of quality control programs involving material for use in the U.S. Energy Department's $4.8 billion mixed oxide fuel fabrications facility under construction at Savannah River Site.
In a preliminary report made public Friday by the Friends of the Earth environmental group, NRC inspectors issued a notice of violation to the facility's contractor, Shaw Areva MOX Services, which has 30 days to respond.
The allegations stem from visits by NRC inspectors to two facilities that manufacture piping and tanks, according to a letter from M. Scott Freeman, acting chief of the NRC's Construction Inspection Branch, to Shaw Areva MOX Services President David Stinson.
The companies were B.F. Shaw, Inc., of Laurens, S.C., which makes piping; and Joseph Oat Corp., of Camden, N.J., which builds tanks, according to the notice of violation, to which the NRC assigned a priority level of IV -- the least serious on the agency's scale.
Among the findings at BF Shaw: visual inspection procedures for quality control evaluation of piping did not meet basic requirements; one examiner's credentials did not meet requirements; MOX Services failed to review BF Shaw's weld repair and quality control memos; BF Shaw failed to track deficiency reports linked to previous audits.
Among the findings at Joseph Oat Corp.: rules for reporting weld defects/repairs to MOX Services were not followed; tanks were fabricated without a formal weld repair/rework procedure in place; MOX Services' review of welder qualifications failed to detect that a welder who worked on the project was not qualified; an examiner involved in visual and liquid penetrant examinations failed to perform those tasks using approved procedures; tests of repair welds were not done according to specifications.
Although the violations were assigned a low priority level, the increased scrutiny of the MOX project might be linked to a recent inquiry by the Energy Department's Inspector General, whose office was critical of other procurement and quality control issues, said Tom Clements, the southeastern nuclear campaign coordinator for Friends of the Earth.
"I would think, because they've seen earlier problems with quality control, that the NRC is taking extra steps to monitor suppliers to make sure they provide proper material," he said.
NRC spokesman Roger Hannah said, however, that onsite visits to facilities that manufacture components for nuclear projects are relatively common and are simply part of the NRC's job.
"It is done very often, even with offshore suppliers," he said.
The MOX facility, which is 15 percent to 20 percent complete, is designed to dispose of 34 metric tons of surplus, weapons-grade plutonium by using small amounts to make fuel for commercial reactors. It is scheduled to open in 2016.
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