Concerns over quality control prompts violation notice to MOX plant contractor

Saturday, May 16, 2009 5:15 PM
Last updated 9:29 PM
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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 may 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.

“These are metal pipes and tanks and there are questions over welds, which are one of the main things they want to look at in nuclear facilities.”

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, noting that it is critical that material destined for use in new nuclear projects be checked to ensure compliance with quality control objectives.

The MOX facility, which is 15 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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SCEagle Eye
SCEagle Eye 05/16/09 - 05:32 pm
Given a scathing report by

Given a scathing report by the DOE Inspector General, it's time for the NRC to get more aggressive in monitoring this costly MOX project. This giant government project is rushing so fast to spend our tax money - about $500 million per year - that they are having trouble quality control requirements. This does not bode well for how the facility might one day operate, if it ever gains an NRC license to do so, and an accident during plutonium processing at the facility could threaten the environment.

Reindeargirl 05/16/09 - 07:00 pm
Maybe similar poor quality

Maybe similar poor quality control at the French version of this facility is what caused cladding problems with the assembly that loaded at Catawba, which had to be removed. Why are we promoting this technology anyway? Do we REALLY want the rest of the world using PLUTONIUM as a fuel source? It would be cheaper, cleaner and faster to vitrify it all, rather than open this can of radioactive worms, that are costing the taxpayers billions.

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