U.S. Responses to the JCO Accident
Numark Associates, Inc.
Associates is studying the impacts in the United States of the JCO
criticality accident which occurred in Japan on September 30, 1999.
In particular we are focusing on the reactions of the U.S.
government, particularly as they impact safety procedures at both U.S.
Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)-licensed facilities and U.S.
Department of Energy (DOE) facilities.
This document chronicles the information we have been able to obtain regarding reactions to date from the White House as well as the Department of Energy, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Environmental Protection Agency and the nuclear industry.
1. The White House
Clinton included a statement on the JCO accident in his White House
press briefing on Thursday, September 30. In response to a
question on how the United States would help, Clinton said:
Friday October 1, 1999, President Clinton stated, in response to a
question by a reporter about steps that may be taken to ensure a
similar accident could not occur in the United States, that:
also said that the JCO accident "should again sensitize us to the
importance of issues of nuclear safety," and took the opportunity to
comment on the siting of the Yucca Mountain repository. Noting
that he is "in a dispute with a majority of members of Congress" over
Yucca Mountain, Clinton stated that when the site was selected, "there
was some science in there, but perhaps some politics, too, since Nevada
is a small state and I have wanted not to see this issue politicized
but to bend over backwards to make sure we do everything we can to deal
with the nuclear safety issue before we adopt this course. I
still feel that way."
- In a written
statement on October 1, 1999 explaining the President's intention to
veto the current Senate bill on Yucca Mountain, President Clinton said:
reportedly ordered the Department of Energy to conduct a safety review
of nuclear fuel processing, and ordered officials from DOE, NRC and the
National Security Council to meet on Tuesday October 5, 1999 to develop
a response to the incident.
2. U.S. Department of Energy
- DOE issued their nuclear criticality safety review on May 11, 2000 (click here to view the report or here
to read the report summary in the press release). DOE's study
focused on criticality safety activities at five facilities:
- Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico;
- Rocky Flats Environmental Technology Site, Colorado;
- Hanford Site, Washington;
- Savannah River Site, South Carolina; and
- Y-12 Plant at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Tennessee.
report found that the conditions that led to the JCO accident do not
exist in the United States due to the procedures and standards adopted
in the United States. However, the report recommended a series of
further actions, including a revision of DOE orders for consistency and
action to ensure that all guidance is understood, adhered to and
constantly improved. The prescribed actions include:
- Creating corrective action plans for each site to implement report guidance;
- Increasing rewards and incentives for DOE to retain and reward criticality safety specialists;
- Finalizing job certification standards and training for criticality safety specialists within the next 30 days;
- Hiring more criticality safety specialists and ensuring all criticality staff meet DOE standards;
- Increasing and tracking hours criticality staff spend on duty, observing criticality work.
Richardson will send a team to return to each of the five sites in
January 2001 to ensure that the above work has been completed
- DOE sent a delegation of nuclear
experts to Japan to exchange information on the JCO accident from
October 18-19, 1999 (view the DOE Press Release here).
They did not visit the site of the accident due to concerns about
residual radioactivity, but were to meet and exchange information with
officials from the Japan Science and Technology Agency (STA) in Tokyo,
the Japan Atomic Energy Research Institute (JAERI), the Japan Nuclear
Cycle Development Institute (JNC) and the JCO Company. The team
- Mr. Frank McCoy, deputy manager of the Energy Department's Savannah River Operations Office, team leader.
- Dr. Leroy Lewis, chemist with the DOE's Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory.
- Dr. Thomas P. McLaughlin, the Group Leader of the Criticality Safety Group at DOE's Los Alamos National Laboratory.
October 22, 1999 the DOE team gave a press conference to discuss their
trip. They commented that all meetings were cooperative and
informative. The team stated that JCO employees had performed an
operation outside of their licensed authority that was further
complicated by the operation being performed in an incorrect manner.
They cited insufficient training and a mechanical system that was
not "user friendly" as additional factors. Questioned on whether
a similar accident could occur in the U.S., the team responded that
similar accidents have already occurred (although not in some time) and
could indeed occur again. However, they stated that lessons have
been learned from previous accidents, and that the JCO accident, while
unfortunate, will reinforce diligence.
3. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
4. Environmental Protection Agency
5. Nuclear Industry
October 4, 1999 the Nuclear Energy Institute organized a meeting in
Washington among U.S. nuclear fuel fabricators to learn and apply
lessons from the JCO accident. At that meeting, industry formed a
working group to inspect each of the U.S. fabrication and enrichment
facilities, in addition to the Allied Signal uranium conversion plant,
looking at criticality safety (though not at Allied Signal) and
emergency response. The team issued its report at the above
mentioned NRC Commission meeting on May 8, 2000. The results of that
report will be available from the NEI website.
the November 15, 1999 ANS Special Session on the JCO Accident, Dr.
Francis Alcorn of the BWX Naval Nuclear Fuel Fabrication Facility
stated that BWX responded to the accident by instituting the following:
- Daily briefings of criticality and operations staff;
- Special safety alerts reminding staff to strictly adhere to established procedures;
- Video and other special training for chemical operators, reminding them that "it could happen here;"
- Formation of a special task force to examine training, material transfers, the availability of large vessels at the plant, and enrichment controls; and
- Emergency preparedness reviews.
Alcorn also stated that BWX prohibits all large-geometry vessels on
site, drilling holes in all garbage pails, trashcans and even desk
drawers to prevent potential unauthorized use.
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