Skipping checklists creates safety mishaps at Savannah River Site

An independent agency within the U.S. executive branch reported a number of operational mishaps at Savannah River Site in a collection of reports made public this week after an extended gap in publication.

 

The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board reported safety-jeopardizing situations in weekly reports dated between Dec. 9 and Jan. 13. One incident damaged a large crane, and the other caused a nonnuclear chemical release and series of alarms in one of the site’s most used facilities.

The safety board has independent inspectors who conduct regular inspections of facilities and operations atthe nation’s defense nuclear facilities. Those reports are typically published every week, after a 14-21 day delay to ensure sensitive security information is not released to the public.

In the Dec. 16 issuance, the report identified an event within the Defense Waste Processing Facility, which is used to take high-level liquid radioactive waste and turn it into glass for future disposal.

According to the report, a maintenance crew was ordered in to work on a refrigerant line valve used to keep other machinery cool. That work package was incorrectly assigned to an unqualified crew, and the report said neither the manager nor the crew adequately examined the work to be performed.

It stated that the crew skipped steps on its checklist and was not using protocol communication practices for work in a loud environment. The report said the event “involved numerous breakdowns in the execution of a maintenance task and subsequent alarm response.”

That crew began work on a refrigerant line that was still fully pressurized. When opened, the line rapidly vented coolant into the facility, setting off a corresponding alarm that sounded for 18 minutes.

Control room workers silenced the alarm and failed to follow safety requirements to announce the alarm to other workers. Not knowing what the alarm was, nearby workers reported it back to the control room as a fire alarm.

The December report said DWPF personnel were scheduled to hold a meeting to analyze the event and determine additional corrective actions. It has not been made clear by the Department of Energy exactly what steps were taken.

DWPF is currently shut down for major repairs as crews remove the old melter and install another. The failure of the DWPF melter took place after this incident and was not related.

In the Jan. 6 report, another event showcased another group of workers failing to follow predetermined safety checklists and protocols. A crane operator at the Solid Waste Management Facility damaged a crane while trying to turn the machine.

According to the report, movement was abruptly stopped when the operator attempted to move the machine 90 degrees. The operator then backtracked and tried again, but the movement was again prevented. A spotter on the ground noticed a piece of the equipment in the movement track.

“Prior to operating a crane, the crane operator is required to perform an inspection and document the condition of the crane in a checklist which includes the house locks,” the report stated. “The crane operator failed to complete the checklist before operating the crane.”

After the release of the Dec. 9 report, the safety board began upgrading to a new website. The reports were on hold until this week when a block was released, including reports from Dec. 16 through Jan. 13. While other facilities have had reports posted through Jan. 27, no SRS reports have been made public since Jan. 13. It is unclear when future reports will be made available.

The Augusta Chronicle reached out to the Department of Energy about the incidents but a response was not immediately received.

Reach Thomas Gardiner at (706) 823-3339 or thomas.gardiner@augustachronicle.com.

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