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NRC begins special investigation into event at NFS

A special inspection is now underway at Nuclear Fuel Services (NFS) by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).
This inspection, which reportedly began on Tuesday, April 14, is the result of an incident when an unplanned chemical reaction occurred in a two-liter bottle that held cleanup materials, a press release from the NRC said. The goal of the special inspection is to examine the events leading to the reaction.
NFS released the following statement regarding the incident: “On Saturday, April 4, 2015, NFS experienced an unplanned chemical reaction in a two-liter bottle (similar to a two-liter soda bottle) in one of its limited-access, locked storage areas. No one was in the area as it is used solely for storage. No employees were exposed or injured. There was no threat to the plant, the community or the environment.
“NFS reported the incident to the NRC before the required 24-hour reporting period. Safety remains NFS’ primary objective and NFS personnel handled the situation in a safe and timely manner.”
According to an NRC event notification report available online, the chemical reaction occurred just before noon on April 4.
“The chemical reaction caused the bottle to breach, releasing some of the contents into the immediate area around the storage rack,” the report said. “There were no individuals in the area where the bottle was stored when the breach occurred. The area has been roped off and is in the process of being cleaned up. There were no personnel injuries or exposures. The event is currently being investigated.”
Also according to the event notification report, NFS notified the NRC of the reaction before 7 a.m. on April 5.
The bottle contained what the NRC described as “cleaning materials.” These included nitric acid and a “small amount” of uranium. NFS spokeswoman Susan Metcalf said the cleaning materials involved in the unplanned reaction are used in routine cleaning.
“In this case, the cheesecloth was used to wipe up nitric acid and a small amount of uranium,” Metcalf also said.
The NRC plans to determine what led to the unplanned reaction, according to the agency.
“Although no one was injured and there were no employee exposures, it could have been worse had employees been in that area at the time,” said NRC Region II Administrator Victor McCree. “Based on that potential, we needed to inspect exactly what happened and what steps are necessary to prevent it from happening again.”
As part of the special inspection, the NRC plans to review how NFS responded to the event, as well as how NFS investigated the event. The NRC also plans to determine the safety significance of the incident, both actually and potentially, according the organization.
The special inspection should take about one week. Once it is complete, the NRC will release a report within 30 days.
Metcalf said NFS plans to cooperate with the NRC investigation and is conducting its own investigation into the event.
“NFS has a history of working closely with the NRC to ensure the highest level of safety,” Metcalf said. “NFS personnel will cooperate with the NRC inspector as he investigates further.”
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The NRC announced last month that it would return NFS to oversight levels similar to other facilities of its type. The NRC reportedly based that decision on the improved performance of NFS during recent years.
Metcalf said NFS could not speculate on whether the unplanned reaction would lead the NRC to return the facility to increased level of oversight.