Could the Japanese Nuclear Accident Happen in the U.S.?

The U.S. Department of Energy issued a Preliminary Notice of Violation (PNOV) to Washington Group International Inc. (WGI) for a September 2010 incident that violated the department’s radiation protection and nuclear safety regulations. The proposed civil penalty is $412,500.


The violations are associated with a radiological contamination incident that occurred on Sept. 29, 2010, during open air demolition of Building H2 at the Separations Process Research Unit (SPRU) nuclear facilities located at the Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory (KAPL) in Niskayuna, New York. The event was traced to the removal and crushing of evaporator system components that were internally contaminated. As a result, radiological contamination from the crushed equipment spread from the demolition area to other areas of SPRU and KAPL. 


The PNOV cites seven Severity Level II and three Severity Level III violations of DOE radiation protection and nuclear safety regulations in the areas of management, quality improvement, work processes, assessments, contamination monitoring, air monitoring, entry control, posting, record keeping and contamination control. WGI is cited for failure to comply with 10 C.F.R. Part 835, Occupational Radiation Protection and 10 C.F.R. Part 830, Nuclear Safety Management.


Since the incident, WGI has initiated enhancements to several of the safety programs that are the subject of the enforcement action. These enhancements include improved safety management oversight mechanisms, better integration of radiation work planning considerations as well as a new project manager and radiation protection management team, including radiation protection engineers and technicians with extensive decontamination and decommissioning experience.


The Price-Anderson Amendments Act of 1988 authorizes the Energy Department to undertake regulatory actions against contractors for violations of its nuclear safety requirements. DOE’s Enforcement Program encourages contractors to identify and correct nuclear safety deficiencies at an early stage, before they contribute to or result in more serious events.


Additional details on this and other enforcement actions are available from the Office of Enforcement.