Management and Safety Issues Concerning DOE's Production Reactors at Savannah River, S.C.

T-RCED-87-5: Published: Mar 12, 1987. Publicly Released: Mar 12, 1987.

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GAO discussed its ongoing audit of the Department of Energy's (DOE) production reactors at its Savannah River Plant, specifically: (1) the testing methods DOE uses to determine potential cracks in the reactor tank walls; (2) a recent reduction in the operating power of the plant's reactors for safety reasons; and (3) the lack of prompt management attention in addressing reactor operations and maintenance problems. GAO found that: (1) the contractor operating the plant for DOE relies on a visual method for testing for cracks, which does not ensure identification of all the weld areas; (2) the commercial nuclear industry and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission feel that the ultrasonic method is the preferred inspection method; (3) the plant operator does not plan to begin even partial ultrasonic testing until 1988; (4) in 1986, the plant operator reduced the operating reactors' power levels by 26 percent after a review raised questions about the emergency cooling system's ability to prevent a fuel meltdown during an accident; and (5) the reactors had operated for about 6 years at a power level that may have been unsafe in the event of an accident. GAO noted that management inattention may have contributed to several problems including: (1) a backlog of recommended actions stemming from the reactor incident report system; (2) inadequate information and guidance concerning reactor repairs and maintenance; and (3) inadequate on-the-job training for mechanics.

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