The company blamed for the failure of SCE&G’s nuclear construction project in Fairfield County also finds itself in trouble for the way it recently operated an atomic fuel plant that it owns, located southeast of Columbia.
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has hit Westinghouse Electric with a safety violation after inspectors found the company didn't have proper procedures in place to prevent a nuclear reaction in one part of its atomic fuel plant. A nuclear reaction, also known as a "critical event,'' often is described as a burst of radiation or an explosion.
Westinghouse failed to examine properly how it would ensure that radioactive, 55-gallon drums did not react with nuclear material leaking from a solvent extraction area, according to an April 25 letter from the NRC to Westinghouse.
No accident occurred. But regulators are concerned whether the approximately 1,000 workers at the Westinghouse plant would have been exposed to radiation in the event of one.
Joey Ledford, a spokesman for the NRC, said the violation is of low safety significance, but the citation is an indication the federal agency has lingering questions about how the plant operates. Two years ago, the NRC found significant issues at the Bluff Road plant.
In 2016, the commission raised concerns about whether a buildup of uranium in a Westinghouse air pollution control device could have caused a small nuclear reaction, or radiation burst.
No accident occurred, but the NRC spent months investigating.
Westinghouse pledged to do better, bringing in new management and working to improve procedures. The NRC still has a stepped-up inspection schedule to make sure the plant is operating properly.
A meeting to discuss safety at the Westinghouse plant will be held Tuesday in Columbia.
Sarah Cassella, a Westinghouse spokeswoman, said a routine NRC inspection, held March 15, uncovered the issue. The inspector found a company safety evaluation did not address the 55-gallon drum, she said.
Cassella said Westinghouse actively is seeking to find problems and resolve them.
"We are instilling values and improving processes in our organization, intently focused on effectively monitoring our own performance, and promptly self-identifying and correcting problems,'' Cassella said in an email late Wednesday. "Our goal is to find and fix issues before they become significant or before others have to identify them. When problems do self-reveal or are identified by others, we critically assess why we did not find that issue and focus on not only fixing the problem but fixing why we did not self-identify it. ''
The Westinghouse plant was built in 1969 in a rural area several miles from what today is Congaree National Park. The plant makes nuclear fuel assemblies for atomic energy plants around the world.
Westinghouse was the chief contractor on the V.C. Summer nuclear construction project. Utilities SCE&G and Santee Cooper walked away from the construction of two new nuclear reactors at Summer last July after spending $9 billion and a decade on the project. The utilities said Westinghouse's poor performance was responsible for driving up costs.