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Westinghouse nuclear fuel factory – more leaks discovered

More leaks discovered at troubled SC nuclear fuel factory; feds investigating, The State.com BY SAMMY FRETWELL, sfretwell@thestate.com  August 31, 2018 HOPKINS 

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission will take a closer look at a troubled nuclear fuel factory on Bluff Road as information surfaces about leaks that date back at least a decade, federal officials said.

NRC officials said they have learned about leaks from 2008 that were not reported to the agency by Westinghouse, the owner and operator of the 49-year-old atomic fuel assembly plant. The NRC said it should have been told about the pollution leaks, even though notice was not always legally required.

To learn more, the NRC will reopen an environmental study of whether the Westinghouse facility poses a danger to Richland County if the company receives a new operating license, agency officials said at a community meeting Thursday night in Hopkins.

Westinghouse is seeking a 40-year license, but the NRC must satisfy federal concerns before the agency can make a decision on the Westinghouse request. The NRC completed an environmental study in June that said the plant does not pose a major hazard to the surrounding environment, even though the facility has had past problems.

“We are going to be asking for additional information from Westinghouse on the various leaks,’’ said Brian Smith, a deputy director for safety and environment at the NRC’s Maryland headquarters.

After the meeting, Smith told The State the decision to reopen the environmental study “was based on new information,’’ including leaks tied to a 2011 uranium spill beneath the plant. The NRC has said it did not know about the 2011 uranium spill until the fall of 2017.
Now, it has learned of pipe breaks in the same area beneath the plant that occurred in 2008, said Smith and Tom Vukovinsky, a senior fuel facility inspector with the NRC in Atlanta. Westinghouse disclosed this information to the NRC amid growing questions about the 2011 leak, officials said.

“They identified a couple of previous leaks,’’ Smith said. “Westinghouse, in responding to all the recent events, has started going back through their records and made us aware of this.’’

The 2008 pollution leaks are the third to surface publicly this summer. In July, the NRC learned that uranium drained through a hole in the floor of the plant building. The NRC’s environmental report in June mentioned the 2011 uranium leak that had not been reported. In examining the circumstances surrounding the 2011 spill, leaks from 2008 were discovered, according to the NRC.

A consultant’s letter, obtained Friday by The State, indicates that a broken pipe spilled radioactive material into the soil in 2008. The letter said Westinghouse found “elevated radionuclide concentration’’ in both process wastewater from the plant and the soil. The company then fixed the pipe, the letter said. Three years later, contamination was found in the soil after Westinghouse discovered pipes were “highly corroded,’’ according to the May 31 letter from consultant AECOM to DHEC.

Uranium is a radioactive material used in the production of nuclear fuel. People exposed to significant amounts of uranium can suffer kidney damage or other ailments. A key unanswered question about all the spills is how much leaked into the ground.
The NRC’s decision to reopen the environmental study is significant because it delays an agency decision on whether to grant the new license, which would keep the plant operating another 40 years. Depending on what the agency learns about leaks, the NRC could shorten the time the license is good for or take enforcement action against Westinghouse.

Thursday’s announcement was welcome news to many in the crowd gathered at a county building adjacent to Lower Richland High School………..

The plant, however, has had plenty of troubles through the years. It has had dozens of run-ins with the NRC over nuclear safety issues and has polluted groundwater on the site. Some of the groundwater pollution has existed since the 1980s. Efforts to clean up groundwater have not succeeded in ridding the site of contamination. …….

Citizens have since formed their own committee to monitor Westinghouse. The area near the site is composed of a mixture of modest homes and exclusive hunt clubs. The site is on Bluff Road between Congaree National Park and Interstate 77, just outside Columbia. https://www.thestate.com/latest-news/article217622890.html

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September 3, 2018 - Posted by | incidents, USA

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