The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, in its latest review, has concluded that activities it regulates at the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant are adequate to maintain safety and safeguards.
The NRC has issued a performance report that documents the agency's observations and insights over the past two years on the United States Enrichment Corporation's nuclear material safety and safeguards related performance at the Portsmouth plant in Ohio, which is operated by USEC.
NRC officials will discuss that report with USEC representatives at a January 23 public meeting. Agency officials also will be available after the meeting to answer questions from the public. The meeting will begin at 1 p.m. EST at Ohio State University's Piketon Research and Extension Center, 1864 Shyville Road in Piketon.
USEC operates the Portsmouth and Paducah, Kentucky, gaseous diffusion plants, both of which are owned by the Department of Energy. The DOE retains jurisdiction over portions of each of the plants. The NRC will issue its periodic performance review results of the Paducah plant this spring.
The NRC evaluated USEC's performance at the Portsmouth plant, which is located in Piketon, Ohio, from October 1, 1998, through September 30, 2000, in five major areas: Safety Operations, Nuclear Material Safeguards, Radiological Controls, Facility Support and Special Topics which included engineering and certification activities. The safeguards area encompasses the protection of enriched uranium to prevent its theft, loss or sabotage.
The NRC considers a company's performance in determining the type, frequency and focus of future inspections. Based on findings from the periodic review, the NRC will conduct its core inspection program at the plant focusing on identified areas that need improvement, with an additional inspection of the plant's nuclear criticality controls. Criticality controls refers to methods used to prevent the occurrence of a self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction in the uranium.
While discussing Portsmouth's past performance in a letter to USEC, NRC Regional Administrator Jim Dyer also commented about the company's future plans for the plant.
In the letter Dyer said, "A challenge also exists in the outlined areas for USEC to assure safety and safeguards are maintained for all activities necessary to transition the Portsmouth facility from an (uranium) enrichment facility to a sampling and transfer facility."
USEC announced last June that it would cease enriching uranium at the Portsmouth facility in June of 2001, but would continue to use the facility for the final preparation of enriched uranium and shipping to customers for about four to five years. Enriched uranium, used by U.S. commercial nuclear power plants to generate electricity, would continue to be produced at USEC's other gaseous diffusion plant in Paducah, Kentucky.
In his letter to USEC, Dyer said strengths were noted in the areas of Nuclear Material Safeguards and Radiological Controls at the Portsmouth plant. However improvements were needed in the areas of Safety Operations, Facility Support and Special Topics, he said.
A copy of the full Licensee Performance Report is available from the NRC Office of Public Affairs or on the NRC web site.