Steam that erupted from a wash tank at the Columbia Westinghouse nuclear fuel production plant injured three workers early Friday morning, closed the final fuel rod assembly area and triggered an internal investigation, a plant spokeswoman told The State newspaper.
“At no time was the public or the environment at risk,” spokeswoman Jessica Barfield said of the 4:30 a.m. incident at the plant off Bluff Road south of the Capital City. She said there was no explosion and that steam escaped because of a “mechanical issue.”
Westinghouse notified federal and state regulatory agencies as well as workplace accident investigators, Barfield said.
The third-shift workers, whom she did not identify, got onsite medical assistance then were taken to a Columbia-area hospital. Afterward, they were transported to the Augusta burn center, which specializes in treating severe burns.
Barfield said she did not know the extent of the burns. Asked if the injuries are life threatening, she said, “I can’t speak to that.”
U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman Roger Hannah confirmed that Westinghouse notified his agency as a courtesy.
“My understanding is it did not involve exposure of any kind to radiological material that we would regulate,” Hannah said when a reporter reached him after he had left his Atlanta office.
The company also notified the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control. “We received a courtesy notification this morning from the Westinghouse nuclear fuel facility that an incident had occurred at that location,” DHEC spokesman Jim Beasley said in a statement. “We are aware of no threat posed to either the public’s health or the environment as a result.”