U.S. Nuclear Site Faces Safety Issues, Panel Says

The U.S. Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board has expressed concerns about the effects of "changes in the safety philosophy" in tritium operations at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, the Augusta, Ga., Chronicle reported on Wednesday (see GSN, Aug. 4).

The facility overseen by the National Nuclear Security Administration conducts a number of operations involving tritium, including ensuring supply of the material used to boost the explosive power of U.S. nuclear weapons.

The revised safety philosophy at the Savannah River Site overly emphasizes measures that have not been vetted, the safety board said in a letter to NNSA chief Thomas D'Agostino.

“The board believes these changes have weakened the safety posture, reduced the safety margin and increased the potential for both workers and the public to be exposed to higher consequences,” stated board Chairman Peter Winokur.

The critique noted that site officials are now using a new process to assess the ramifications of the escape of tritium gas rather than a more standard simulation. "By using these nonbounding, less conservative parameters, the dose to the public is underestimated," according to the board.

The site has 90 days to respond to the board letter. Officials said their answer is pending and reaffirmed their belief in current safety operations.

“Since the board staff’s visit a year ago, earthquake drills have been developed and are being implemented in the tritium facilities,” according to SRS spokesman Jim Giusti. “These drills provide awareness to employees regarding possible facility conditions after an earthquake and they provide training on immediate response actions required during and after a seismic event.”

He noted that the facility's tritium stock has dropped by 66 percent over roughly two decades, but that safety systems have not seen a corresponding reduction (Rob Pavey, Augusta Chronicle, Aug. 24).

August 25, 2011
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The U.S. Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board has expressed concerns about the effects of "changes in the safety philosophy" in tritium operations at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, the Augusta, Ga., Chronicle reported on Wednesday (see GSN, Aug. 4).