A bundle containing canisters of radioactive spent fuel was dropped in the L-Reactor storage pool at Savannah River Site in July, resulting in a “timeout” in handling operations at the time, according to documents acquired by nuclear watchdog group SRS Watch.
The July 12 incident involved Canadian NRX research reactor spent fuel as it was being moved in the storage pool in the old L-Reactor, where spent nuclear fuel from research and medical isotope reactors is stored. The Department of Energy reported there was no damage or release of radioactive materials.
During evaluation of the incident, the DOE expressed concern about the situation impacting the shipping schedule of more NRX spent fuel from the Chalk River Labs in Ontario. An “L-Area Technical Review Board” was convened to review the incident in which the fuel fell back into a storage basket.
Barbara Smoak, spokeswoman for Savannah River Nuclear Solutions, the maintenance and operations contractor for SRS, said workers followed proper procedure after the incident.
“Employees responded the way they are trained – by immediately taking a timeout,” she said in an email. “Employees followed the defined processes and procedures for assessing and analyzing the incident. When it was determined safe, operations resumed. The event did not impact the planned schedule.”
An “Occurrence Report” dated July 13 called the event the “Inadvertent NRX Fuel released from Fuel Tool.” The report states that:
On July 12, 2016, during the unloading and bundling of National Research Experimental (NRX)-5 fuel from the NRX basket in the unloading station, an NRX fuel assembly was being removed from basket position 4. After the fuel assembly was raised 24 inches for fuel identification per procedure, the assembly became disengaged from the NRX tool and fell back into its original basket position. Fuel handling was stopped and a timeout was called. Limiting Conditions for Operations 3.1.4 was entered to allow Spent Fuel Project (SFP) Engineering and Nuclear and Criticality Safety Engineering to determine status of compliance with the nuclear safety data sheet. SFP Engineering is inspecting the NRX tool in use to help determine the cause of the disengagement.
SRS Watch said the final report on the cause of the drop was not released in documents sent to the organization from its Freedom of Information Act request.
“As damage to the spent fuel could have had negative impact to workers and operation of the L-Area spent fuel facility, it is imperative that DOE adjust its procedures to make sure such a potentially harmful incident never happens again,” said Tom Clements, director of SRS Watch. “DOE must now fully inform that public as to what steps it’s taking to improve spent fuel handling procedures in the aftermath of the incident involving dropping of the Canadian spent fuel.”