The contractor managing the Savannah River Site is now operating at full speed six months after a procedures violation triggered a slowdown.
Savannah River Nuclear Solutions announced Monday that operations have returned to normal after the HB Line became the last production line to resume. It produces material to be used in the mixed-oxide reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel.
“Pausing operations wasn’t an easy call to make but I have no doubt it was the right one,” wrote Carol Johnson, SRNS president, in a letter to The Augusta Chronicle. “At SRNS, we don’t just talk the talk on safety. We walk the walk.”
Company managers instituted what the Department of Energy calls an “operational pause” in September after discovering that three workers and a supervisor used the wrong container for storing plutonium samples in the HB Line.
Other production lines paused for about a month while safety guidelines were updated.
“We are a learning organization that is continuously seeking ways to improve and this examination has allowed SRNS to refocus our operations in a number of important ways, including revising meeting schedules to allow for more management time in the field and hiring more personnel to focus on training,” Johnson wrote. “We’ve also changed how we adapt, monitor and implement our operating procedures and increased mentoring for first-line supervisors.”
One critic sees the September incident, and an earlier one in February of last year, as evidence that the 60-year-old production line is dangerously outdated.
“Given the age of the facility and operational problems over the past two years, renewed operation of HB Line merits the closest scrutiny concerning future incidents or accidents,” said Tom Clements, executive director of the SRS Watch advocacy organization. “As future problems with HB Line could result in its permanent closure, its operation by SRNS must be continually kept under the microscope by both SRS as well as the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board.”
The production slowdown put the company far behind its production goals for last year.
But Clements says it still got most of the financial bonus it could have earned for exceeding the targets.
Johnson argues that the slowdown proved that the company made safety a priority above production.