ERWIN, Tenn. - "(Released for publication) The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is launching a special inspection today at the Nuclear Fuel Services fuel fabrication facility to assess the circumstances surrounding the alleged improper disabling of safety devices in violation of NRC regulations.
The plant, located in Erwin, Tenn., fabricates fuel for the U.S. Navy's nuclear fleet.
On June 17, an employee was observed by an NFS supervisor to be improperly operating two valves that are identified as key safety devices. The valves were propped open, which rendered them unable to perform their intended safety function. They are intended to be manually operated to prevent a hazardous chemical solution from spilling on the floor and causing a chemical exposure. No radioactive materials were involved in the incident.
The event was reported to the NRC by NFS. No spill occurred, so there were no actual safety consequences. NFS immediately shut down the process and initiated an investigation.
The special inspection, to be performed by the NRC's senior resident inspector, will review the facts surrounding the incident, as well as the NFS response and the company's corrective actions to prevent recurrence.
"The special inspection will analyze all the details of this incident," said Victor McCree, the NRC's Region II administrator. "There was no threat to the public or plant workers as a result of this incident, but there was potential for worker exposure to hazardous chemicals."
The on-site portion of the inspection is expected to take about three days. A report documenting the team's inspection findings will be issued within 45 days of the inspection."
NFS also released a statement following the publication of the NRC release.
"On June 17, 2014, a Nuclear Fuel Services (NFS) employee failed to follow procedural requirements while operating equipment containing a hazardous chemical. The employee's supervisor observed the incident and took immediate action to ensure system safety was maintained. As a result, there were no safety consequences to employees, the public or the environment. The employee responsible for violating the procedure is no longer with the company.
NFS identified the improper action, immediately corrected the situation and notified the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. In addition, an internal investigation is being conducted to preclude any future occurrence.
The health and safety of the public and our employees is the top priority at NFS. We are committed to operating NFS in the safest manner possible while ensuring all NRC requirements are met."