Pacific Spirit Marine Institute
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
In 2004, the Office of Naval Reactors, which is part of the Department of Energy, sent a memo to the NRC, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, requesting that all correspondence between the NRC and Nuclear Fuel Services of Erwin, Tennessee be marked “Official Use Only”. This memo itself was labeled “Official Use Only”. The Memo that established the policy was itself kept secret.
Fast forward to March 6, 2006 when NFS of Erwin Tennessee had a spill of “high-enriched uranium” HEU solution at their Erwin plant. Approximately 35 liters and did not notify local officials, or their neighbors. Apparently not one word of this occurrence left the plant which employs approximately 715 employees until April of this year, 2007.
In its required annual report to Congress the NRC included this incident. Titled “Report to Congress on Abnormal Occurrences: Fiscal Year 2006″
Nuclear Fuel Services, NFS actually acted in compliance with the DOE and the NRC when it did NOT disclose the spill to the public, but did report the spill to the NRC. I find no fault in their compliance. Their fault will, no doubt, be determined in this instance to safety issues that led to the spill in the first place, not to their obligation to inform their neighbors of what happened.
I would have been freaked out had I found 35 liters of orange juice leaking out of my refrigerator and running down my hall. I can’t imagine the feeling a worker had when coming upon 9 gallons of yellow HEU flowing from under a door and into a hallway.
The spill could have caused a self-sustaing chain reaction, meaning this spill could have reached ‘criticality’. A simple explanation of ‘criticality’ is when a pooling of HEU material takes place. This particular spill, according to reports from the NRC itself, had 2 such opportunities and …”it was merely a matter of luck that a criticality accident did not occur”
It was reported by Matthew L. Wald in the NY Times July 6 that in fact this spill was so bad it kept the plant closed for 7 months last year. Nuclear Fuel Services, NFS, spokesperson Tony Treadway took extreme issue with this report saying NFS immediately and voluntarily shut down the ‘process’, and that numerous ‘other process operations within the plant were never “closed” due to the spill…
The potentially life-threatening spill was hidden for more than 13 months and US congressman John Dingell is demanding answers. Dingell is House energy Committee Chairman.
Since 9/11 the NRC has become increasingly more secretive claiming it is protecting the public from terrorists. This information begs the question’ “which terrorists?”
So, thanks to the DOE Memo, requesting “official use only” labels on all correspondence between NFS of Erwin and the NRC the public never heard of the accident. Wald wrote “after an investigation, the commission changed the terms of the factory’s license and said the public had 20 days to request a hearing…”
The public could not request a hearing because of course, that document was also labeled “Official Use Only” so the public couldn’t know about that either.
The “official use only’ stamp barred the public from even knowing about the document, let alone granting them their legal right to a hearing if they felt they were being adversely affected.
Chairman Dingell and subcommittee chair Bart Stupak’s demand letter in PDF form.
It would seem, the US is covering up its Nuclear accidents, while Japan is announcing theirs to the world.
We will be keeping an eye on this Memo and our “After the Downing Street Memo, Came the Polar Bear Memo” interesting stories, both.
Labels: After Downing Street, Congressman Dingell, HEU, Japan, Memo, NRC, Nuclear Spill, Polar Bear Memo
© 2009, Pacific Spirit Marine Institute.
After Downing Street Memo: NRC Sends Its Own Memo: Don’t ask Don’t tell when Highly Enriched Uranium spills!