Feds nab Reed in "more than minor" nuke safety violation
College kids running a nuclear reactor -- what could go wrong? Well, at Reed College in southeast Portland, they're finding out. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has written the college's toy reactor operators up for three safety violations, including one major one -- allegedly putting more fuel in the reactor than they were allowed to:
[F]rom February 2 to 4, 2011, the licensee made a change to the facility as described in the safety analysis report without conducting an evaluation to determine whether or not the change should have required a license amendment. Specifically, the licensee added 15 more fuel elements to the reactor core in addition to those already installed, for a total of 79 elements, thus changing the core configuration. The licensee did not perform an evaluation of the change against the criteria in 10 CFR 50.59(c)(2) to determine if the change should have required a license amendment.
This has been determined to be a Severity Level IV violation (Section 6.1).
The letter from the NRC elaborates:
The violation is being cited in the Notice because it constitutes the failure to meet a regulatory requirement that has more than minor safety significance and it was identified by the NRC.
Steve Frantz, the head of the reactor operation at Reed, retired on June 30, 2011. We wonder whether this little misadventure had anything to do with it.
In addition, based on the results of this inspection, the NRC has determined that two other Severity Level IV violations of NRC requirements occurred. These violations are being treated as non-cited violations (NCVs), consistent with Section 2.3.2.b of the Enforcement Policy.
We wrote about one of these other two incidents here -- the reactor was run with one of its power measuring channels malfunctioning. In the other, one of the young folks running the reactor walked off and left his or her key in the ignition:
At approximately 12:20 p.m., on February 6, 2012, the RO [reactor operator] at the console was finishing the core excess calculations. When that task was finished, the RO informed the SRO [senior reactor operator] then he would be shutting down the reactor. The RO then proceeded to drive in the rods until they were fully inserted. The RO informed the SRO that the reactor was shut down and left the control room and reactor bay area. When the RO left the control room, he neglected to remove the key from the console.
At approximately 1:35 p.m., the Facility Director and the Associate Director came to the facility and noticed that the blue light in the hallway of the facility was illuminated, indicating that the reactor was “on” and the key was in the console and set in the "operate" position. When they entered the Control Room they found that no one was in the room and that, indeed, the reactor key was still in the console. The Associate Director immediately removed the key from the console and secured it.
The licensee investigated the event and determined that the key had apparently been left in the console for 75 minutes before the condition was discovered due to an oversight by the RO.
The Reed reactor is 44 years old. It was built for another time and world. Obviously, it's become quite a handful to keep tabs on. Even if Il Presidente of the college succeeds in getting the bongs out of sight, he ought to think about phasing the nuke operation out before something really bad happens.