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NFS: Unplanned fire contained

What an event report filed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) described as “an unplanned fire” at Nuclear Fuel Services (NFS) in Erwin last month did not result in any consequences, such as environmental releases and employee exposure, according to NRC and NFS officials.
According to NRC event report #50748, the fire occurred in Building 110 – a research and development lab at NFS – on Jan. 21.
“During calcining of a water-rinsed polypropylene cartridge filter, flames were observed at the top of the furnace door,” the NRC report states. “The flames were contained in ventilation hood H-103. The flames lasted for 5-10 minutes, always limited to the top of the furnace door.”
Susan Metcalf, with NFS communications, described the fire as “minor.”
“This was a minor incident in the R&D (research and development) lab,” she said. “The flames were contained as was the material being handled. There weren’t any consequences and NFS responded to the NRC in less than half the time required.”
Metcalf also said the oven where the fire took place was similar in size to a toaster oven. In this oven, a filter was being oxidized to recover uranium from it. She also said this type of work is “continuously monitored.”
“We are currently investigating the incident,” Metcalf said. “Steps to prevent similar events in the future will be based on the results of the investigation.”
She also said that the activity involves a small amount of uranium. All of the material was contained in the hood.
“The activity was contained in a ventilated hood designed for this type of work,” Metcalf said.
Containing the activity in the ventilated hood is what prevented employee exposure and environmental releases, according to Metcalf.
The NRC report confirms that no consequences occurred as a result of the fire.
Roger Hannah, senior public affairs officer with the NRC, said in an email to The Erwin Record that flames are part of this activity.
“The fire was not unexpected because the research on the filters involved burning them – the size of the flames, etc. was more than expected,” Hannah said.
Metcalf also said when the air supply and power to the hood were terminated and the flames were allowed to self-extinguish. As such, no fire suppressant was required.
Both Metcalf and Hannah said because the fire was small and contained, no local fire departments were called to respond.
“We are still evaluating the events, but it was a very small fire affecting a limited area and I do not believe it required any off site assistance,” Hannah said.
Some damage did occur because of the fire, according to the NRC event report.
“The glass in the sash for hood H-103 broke, most likely from the heat of the flame,” the report states. “The glass is spider-webbed, but contained in the sash.”
This damage was contained to a small area, Metcalf said.
“The hood itself was not damaged,” she said. “The glass in the hood cracked in a spider-web pattern.”
The NRC report also said that the hood and furnace involved in the fire have been taken out of service. Metcalf said they will go back into service “after completion of the investigation and implementation of corrective actions.”
The hood and furnace being out of service will not impact production at NFS, according to both Hannah and Metcalf, because the activity was part of research and development.
No nuclear materials are stored in Building 110, according to Metcalf.