Nuclear Health and Safety:

Information on a Quality Assurance Problem at DOE's Savannah River Site

RCED-90-61FS: Published: Oct 23, 1989. Publicly Released: Oct 24, 1989.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information about the Department of Energy's (DOE) Savannah River Plant's material content problem with the nuclear reactor fuel and target tubes it used to make tritium, focusing on: (1) why some of the fuel and targets did not have the correct material content for reactor placement; (2) the material content problem's effects on reactor safety; (3) the costs to address the problem; and (4) implications for reactor restart.

GAO found that: (1) DOE had the former site operation contractor cease assembly of fuel and target tubes in September 1988, after the contractor reported that tube contents were too low; (2) the former contractor subsequently found that 174 tubes either did not meet content specifications or had inadequate documentation to determine whether they met specifications; (3) DOE did not plan to use the 174 problem tubes or an additional 101 tubes that were included in the problem tubes' assemblies; (4) the former contractor did not adequately ensure that tube assemblies met all of the specifications, independently verify the accuracy of comparisons between tubes' physical examinations and content documentation, or keep adequate tube retesting records; (5) DOE and the present contractor reported that no safety problems resulted from the tube problems, since the tubes' variation from specifications was very small and well within established safety margins; (6) although the contractor estimated that it would cost $731,000 to replace the defective tubes, it did not develop cost information regarding production overhead, staff time, or the closing of operations for the year it took to resolve the problem; (7) DOE reported that the tube problems would not affect the planned restart of the closed reactor; and (8) DOE approved a new quality assurance program the contractor developed to address the tube problem.

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