United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission - Protecting People and the Environment

NRC Staff Proposes $55,000 Fine Against U.S. Enrichment Corporation for Violation at Portsmouth Plant



NRC Seal NRC NEWS

U. S. NUCLEAR REGULATORY COMMISSION

OFFICE OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS, REGION III

801 Warrenville Road, Lisle IL 60532

CONTACT:    Jan Strasma (630) 829-9663/e-mail: rjs2@nrc.gov
Angela Greenman (630) 829-9662/e-mail: opa3@nrc.gov

NEWS ANNOUNCEMENT: RIII-98-44

July 16, 1998

NRC STAFF PROPOSES $55,000 FINE AGAINST U.S. ENRICHMENT CORPORATION
FOR VIOLATION AT PORTSMOUTH PLANT

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff has proposed a $55,000 fine against the U.S. Enrichment Corporation (USEC) for an inadequate maintenance and testing program for safety-related valves at its Portsmouth, Ohio, gaseous diffusion plant.

The Portsmouth facility processes uranium for use in fuel for commercial nuclear power plants.

In April, NRC inspectors, during an inspection of the plant's autoclave system, questioned the lack of testing for autoclave containment isolation valves, which are operated by compressed air. Inspectors noted that these valves were not routinely tested for conditions resulting from low pressure within the plant's compressed air system.

The autoclave is similar to a large oven where a cylinder containing solid uranium hexafluoride (UF6) is heated to convert it to a gas. The plant's autoclaves have high pressure containment system valves which are opened by compressed air and closed either by use of compressed air or by a spring. During certain accident conditions, these valves prevent the release of UF6 to the environment by closing the lines used during normal operations. The air-operated valves normally use the plant's compressed air system. But they also have air reserve tanks to close the valves in the event of a loss of normal plant air pressure.

As a result of the NRC inspectors' concern, the plant staff initially tested 25 containment valves, seven of which failed to meet the test criteria for closing.

In a letter to the corporation, NRC Acting Regional Administrator Carl J. Paperiello said there was no actual safety consequence in this event. The autoclave containment isolation systems typically have a back-up spring-operated valve available, which would have closed if a loss of air pressure occurred.

He told the corporation, however, that the violation "is a significant safety concern" because of an increased potential for a release of UF6 if there were both a loss of plant air and a catastrophic rupture of a UF6 cylinder.

He added that the root cause of the violation indicated a "lack of fundamental understanding of the importance of demonstrating that safety system components will perform their intended safety functions over the full range of operating conditions."

The corporation has implemented numerous corrective actions, including an operability evaluation of the valves and the establishment of testing and repair criteria.

USEC has until August 13 to pay the fine or to protest it. If the fine is protested and subsequently imposed by the NRC staff, the corporation may request a hearing.

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