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More problems uncovered at nuclear fuel plant near Columbia via The State

COLUMBIA, SC An atomic safety investigation at a Columbia nuclear fuel factory uncovered additional problems this week as inspectors discovered more radioactive material had built up in the plant than they previously knew about.

An air pollution control system pipe potentially contained enough uranium to cause a nuclear accident at the Westinghouse plant on Bluff Road, records show. The amount of uranium found in the pipe might have exceeded a federal safety limit, according to a federal event notification report.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission became aware of the problem Tuesday, about five weeks after Westinghouse notified the agency that uranium had built up in another part of the air pollution scrubber system, records show. In that case, the amount of uranium found in the scrubber was three times higher than federal safety limits, the notification report says.

This week’s discovery, like the uranium buildup that surfaced in July, did not pose any danger to the surrounding community and no workers at the factory were harmed, according to the NRC. But buildups of nuclear material are a concern.

A buildup of atomic material can cause accidents that could endanger plant employees working nearby. Too much uranium in one place can increase chances of a “critical event,’’ which federal officials say is one of the most serious problems at a nuclear fuel plant.

[…]

Westinghouse’s nuclear fuel plant is a 550,000 square foot factory that makes nuclear fuel rods for commercial power plants. It is one of a handful of uranium fuel factories in the country, Hannah said. The plant is located on a lonely stretch of highway a few miles from Congaree National Park and along the Congaree River.

[…]

Records show the problems that surfaced Tuesday are more of a concern. Uranium was found in the crook of a pipe that could “potentially exceed’’ a limit on the material of 80 pounds. Hannah said the pipe was part of the air scrubber system at Westinghouse.

In July, the NRC reported that 191 pounds of uranium had been found in the existing scrubber, which is about three times the legal limit for uranium in that section of the Westinghouse factory.

The uranium accumulation problems aren’t the first at the Bluff Road plant. In 2004, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission fined Westinghouse $24,000 after learning the atomic material had built up for eight years in a plant incinerator.

The fine, believed to be the largest against the plant at the time, prompted the company to make $3 million worth of improvements and replace its incinerator. Overall, Westinghouse has faced about a dozen major NRC enforcement actions since the late 1990s in South Carolina, NRC records show.

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