The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has imposed a $35,000 fine on Babcock & Wilcox because, the government agency said, employees waited too long to declare an emergency in July after finding uranium in a container of oil.
On July 15, B&W employees found the uranium in a container of oil used in a saw that cuts fuel components at the company’s facility in Campbell County, which handles highly enriched uranium used in nuclear fuel.
If enough nuclear material is present in one place or in a container of a particular shape, it can cause a “criticality,” or a strong burst of radiation, the NRC said.
B&W later determined there was not enough uranium present in the oil to pose a hazard, but the NRC says employees waited more than two hours before declaring a low-level alert.
“Although this failure to declare the emergency in a timely manner did not have any adverse effects, the results could have been significant under different circumstances,“ NRC Region II Deputy Administrator for Operations Victor McCree said in a news release issued Tuesday.
B&W has 30 days to pay or protest the penalty.
B&W spokeswoman Carla Parks said a decision whether to pay or appeal the fine had not been made as of Tuesday afternoon.
In an e-mail, Parks said, “B&W is committed to meeting or exceeding all NRC standards, and understands that they want to reinforce the importance of taking the necessary steps to ensure incidents don’t occur. We are currently reviewing the decision, and will work internally and with the NRC team to discuss a path forward.”
Parks also said any lapses in safety procedures from the July event have been rectified, and that the Mt. Athos facility as well as other company locations have “taken appropriate and extensive compensatory measures in response to July’s event.”
“We will proactively continue to implement long-term corrective actions to uphold B&W’s positive track record and ongoing commitment to safe, secure operations for our employees, customers and community members,” Parks said.
On October 2008, B&W was fined $32,500 after an employee used sodium hydroxide to try to clean up a hydrofluoric acid spill, causing a chemical reaction that splashed acid in the worker’s face.
The employee did not suffer permanent vision loss or other adverse health effects, officials said.