An uptick of safety lapses at Savannah River Site prompted a federal oversight panel to notify a top U.S. Department of Energy official and call for changes to the nuclear plant’s safety programs.
The safety concerns, according to Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board Chairman Peter Winokur, include backlogs of corrective maintenance, equipment issues, errors in engineering and nuclear safety documents and weak training programs.
In a May 16 letter to the Department of Energy’s Acting Assistant Secretary of Environmental Management David Huizenga, Winokur said DOE and contractors at SRS have made efforts to increase safety awareness in the short-term. The board, however, wants a corrective action plan leading to sustained performance improvements.
“The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board is increasingly concerned with shortcomings in the safe performance of work across the Savannah River Site,” the letter said. “Particular areas of concern include the implementation of worker and facility safety controls, the conduct of maintenance and hazardous energy control.”
The letter came after a weekly inspection of site facilities in early April when a series of safety violations, contamination incidents and injuries were found during the first quarter of 2014. The Department of Energy said site contractors - Savannah River Nuclear Solutions and Savannah River Remediation - were working on corrective actions to prevent recurrences.
On April 7, DOE instructed Savannah River Nuclear Solutions to evaluate errors affecting facility safety and develop a corrective action plan. DOE granted the contractor a 30-day extension, giving SRNS until June 9 to develop a plan.
Safety concerns were observed at the end of 2013 and beginning of 2014 in several site areas, including the HB-Line facility, H-Canyon and K-Area Complex. DOE said in the April 7 letter that safety issues identified were not an exhaustive list.
Likewise, the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board requested a briefing by July 16 from DOE and site contractors on corrective actions and safety programs.