3 Hurt at SC Nuclear Fuel Facility

Wednesday, September 30, 2015 @ 12:09 PM gHale

Steam caused by a mechanical issue that erupted from a wash tank at the Columbia Westinghouse nuclear fuel production plant in South Carolina injured three workers Friday morning, closed the final fuel rod assembly area and triggered an internal investigation, officials said.

“At no time was the public or the environment at risk,” spokeswoman Jessica Barfield said of the 4:30 a.m. incident at the plant in Columbia, SC. She said there was no explosion and steam escaped because of a “mechanical issue.”

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Westinghouse notified federal and state regulatory agencies as well as workplace accident investigators, Barfield said.

Third-shift workers, whom she did not identify, got onsite medical assistance then went to a Columbia-area hospital. Afterward, they then transferred over to the Augusta burn center, which specializes in treating severe burns.

Barfield said she did not know the extent of the burns. Asked if the injuries are life threatening, she said, “I can’t speak to that.”

“Right now, the plant is not closed – just that particular area,” Barfield said.

Relatives of the workers are getting “all possible assistance from the company,” the spokeswoman said. Other workers also have access to help through company programs, she said.

Wash tanks are in the final assembly area in preparation for shipment of fuel rod assemblies that consist of nuclear pellets made and assembled at the plant, she said. Fuel rod assemblies go out to operating nuclear plants to power their reactors.

Barfield said she did not know how many workers were in the wash tank area at the time.

U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) spokesman Roger Hannah said Westinghouse notified his agency as a courtesy.

“My understanding is it did not involve exposure of any kind to radiological material that we would regulate,” Hannah said.

The company also notified the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC). “We received a courtesy notification this morning from the Westinghouse nuclear fuel facility that an incident had occurred at that location,” said DHEC spokesman Jim Beasley. “We are aware of no threat posed to either the public’s health or the environment as a result.”

Columbia Fire Chief Aubrey Jenkins said firefighters got a 911 medical call at 4:38 a.m. A rescue truck went to the plant and helped medical personnel who were there. The plant has its own fire and medical departments, Barfield said.