Nuclear commission, Areva settle over safety error

Areva NP and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission have reached a settlement agreement after an employee disabled an electronic eye sensor used as part of a safety check.

Areva, which produces fuel for nuclear power reactors, discovered the problem last spring. It reported it to the NRC, although it was not required to, according to the NRC.

In the incident, an employee tampered with the electronic sensor used when uranium powder is transferred from a drum into the processing system of the Richland plant, according to NRC documents. Operators must block the sensor, called a vacuum wand interlock, with their body to activate the vacuum transfer system.

Instead, the employee taped the wand's eye to make it work. However, other safety systems were in place that could have prevented an accident, if needed, according to the NRC.

The employee immediately was relieved of duties and no longer works at Areva, according to the NRC. Areva also reviewed operations and determined the incident was isolated, the NRC said.

An order issued Monday by the NRC outlines corrections and improvements Areva has agreed to make to prevent similar incidents. The NRC has issued no penalty and plans no other enforcement action.

Areva will implement a management observation program at the Richland plant to reinforce correct work practices and will perform a survey to determine the results of efforts to increase the availability of supervisors in work areas.

In addition Areva will communicate the facts of the incident and what has been learned from it to all employees at Areva facilities licensed for special nuclear materials. Employees also will receive safety training related to the incident.

"Areva is committed to applying the lessons learned from this incident to all Areva special nuclear materials licensed facilities in the U.S.," said a statement issued by Areva on Tuesday.

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