NRC raps maker of Vt. Yankee waste casks

Published: 12/29/2018 8:42:44 AM

VERNON, Vt.  — The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has filed a complaint against the manufacturer of radioactive waste storage casks used at the closed Vermont Yankee nuclear plant.

Holtec International adopted a new design for its steel and concrete casks without federal approval. NRC officials say the company made changes after discovering a loose “bolt” last March at San Onofre nuclear power plant in California. The small threaded posts connect to the bottom of shims in the canister of the cask to create space between multiple aluminum  shims and the bottom of the canister to keep the basket stabilized in each of the casks.

As a result of that discovery, the Vermont Yankee plant – where 58 casks are now stored following the reactor’s shutdown four years ago – temporarily halted transfer of those casks from a spent fuel pool. The transfer was resumed after two months of inspections to determine there was not a problem with the Vernon casks.

NRC spokesman Sheehan said  Holtec altered the cask design without a written evaluation, violating federal safety regulations. The same casks were used at Vermont Yankee and other plants to hold spent fuel.

Sheehan told the Brattleboro Reformer that 31 of the 58 casks at the Vernon site were of the new Holtec design. 

Specifically, according to the Nov. 29 NRC Special inspection report, Holtec apparently “failed to establish adequate design control measures” in its process of reviewing suitability of alternative “4-inch stainless steel standoff pins … (that are) essential to the function of the fuel basket to maintain support and ensure that the shims stay elevated to allow airflow to the fuel assemblies” in the canister.

The other apparent violation, it noted, was the company’s seeming failure to perform a written evaluation to demonstrate that its design change  did not require a designated certificate of compliance  amendment.

Holtec did not respond to The Recorder’s written request for comment Friday. 

NRC inspectors conducted a routine inspection at the Holtec facilities in New Jersey in May, according to NRC spokeswoman Diane Screnci.  Based on the information gathered during that inspection, two “apparent violations of NRC requirements” have been identified and are being considered for enforcement action, she said.   

Holtec is scheduled to take part in a pre-decisional enforcement conference Jan. 9 to provide additional information to federal regulators. 

“The decision to hold a pre-decisional enforcement conference does not mean that the NRC has determined that a violation has occurred or that enforcement action will be taken,” Screnci said. The conference will help regulators determine whether a violation occurred as well its significance and the need to be any corrective actions as the NRC considers whether there needs to be an  enforcement decision.

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