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Global Nuclear Fuel won't contest NRC fine

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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) -- Federal regulators wants to fine a Wilmington-based Global Nuclear Fuel. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has proposed a $17,500 civil penalty against Global Nuclear Fuel–Americas LLC for violations of NRC requirements related to a March incident at the fuel manufacturing facility.

"GNF has worked with the NRC to analyze the situation and has implemented short-term corrective actions," GNF spokesman Michael Tetuan said in a statement. "GNF presented its progress of its corrective actions to the NRC at a public meeting at the end of September and has cooperated fully with the agency. GNF will not contest the civil penalty.

A news release from the NRC says the violations involved a failure of Global Nuclear Fuel's staff to maintain mass control of uranium oxide in particulate air filters in one area of the facility. On March 2, Global Nuclear Fuel advised the NRC that its staff had identified that an excessive amount of uranium oxide powder has been present in the filter housing. There was no actual criticality, the release says, though the quantity of material could have posed a criticality threat if other safety features had not been in place. GNF says as soon as the problem was discovered, the equipment was shut down and the issue reported to the NRC.

A criticality can occur when nuclear materials come together in sufficient quantity or in a container of correct shape to initiate a chain reaction resulting in either a "burst" or a sustained release of radiation. A small criticality event would not be expected to affect people or the environment outside the facility, but could be serious for workers in the immediate area.

"At no time did this issue impact the health or safety of our employees, customers, the environment or the public," Tetuan said. "GNF will continue to implement long-term corrective actions to prevent a recurrence of this problem."

A NRC Special Inspection Team identified the violations associated with the failure to maintain mass control. At a Sept. 29 predecisional enforcement conference, Global Nuclear Fuel officials acknowledged the violations and presented details of corrective actions to prevent a recurrence of the event.

The NRC proposed a $17,500 civil penalty for the violations partly because the company has been the subject of escalated enforcement within the past two years. The company has 30 days to either pay the civil penalty or protest its imposition.

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