General Atomics HQ, just east of La Jolla at 3550 General Atomics Court
  • General Atomics HQ, just east of La Jolla at 3550 General Atomics Court
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General Atomics, one of San Diego’s most controversial military contractors and maker of the Predator drone, says it needs more time to respond to a federal inspection report blasting the questionable quality of the company’s radiation detection devices for commercial reactors.

On November 29, a 38-page Notice of Nonconformance called out multiple failures of vital detection equipment, including findings that General Atomics “did not perform periodic testing of the chemical composition of the [detectors’] coating material…nor did [General Atomics] verify the shelf life of the coating material.”

Additionally, the firm failed to “verify the adequacy of the calibration services…which could adversely affect the accuracy of [radiation monitoring systems'] detectors.”

During the inspection, conducted by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission this past autumn, federal inspectors also reported they had witnessed “staff adding and removing lead shields from the stack of lead bricks…without documenting the change in configuration.”

Thus, according to the document, staffers “were unaware of the amount of scattered radiation…and the effect of adding and removing lead from the cart on the amount of scattered radiation.”

Now the company, acknowledging the seriousness of the multiple allegations, has won a 30-day extension to formulate a reply to the criticism, per a December 9 letter from Keith E. Asmussen, director of the firm’s licensing, safety and nuclear compliance division.

General Atomics “takes notices of nonconformance very seriously and wants to reply in a timely manner, but also wants to take the time necessary to research the findings, develop appropriate corrective actions, and provide a comprehensive and well-considered response that addresses the issues and conveys the scope of actions that have been, and will be, taken to improve GA's compliance."

After inspectors left the plant here in October, Asmussen’s letter continues, the company “immediately commenced activities to investigate, evaluate, discuss, revise, and improve its policies and procedures as appropriate. And, while much work has been done, after reviewing the details in the referenced nonconformance report and after considering the resources and time needed to properly address them, and for the reasons given below, GA respectfully requests a 30-day extension of time within which to respond.”

Per the letter, “the nature of the non-conformances demand an in-depth evaluation and plan for explanation and corrective action.”

In addition, “One of GA's key Engineers (and subject matter experts) has been unavoidably out of the office for the last month. This person just returned to the office on December 8, 2016. He will have a lead responsibility in the evaluation and identification of appropriate corrective measures and improvements (especially with regard to proper calibration of [Radiation Monitoring System] detectors).”

Added Asmussen, “It is to be noted that GA essentially shuts down for the holidays during the last week of each year. This year, December 26 and 27 are GA holidays and December 28, 29 and 30, are 'optional workdays.' Thus, GA would need to reply by December 23; just two weeks from now. A comprehensive well­ reasoned reply warrants more time to prepare.”

In a December 16 letter, recently posted online, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s office of new reactors extended the deadline another 30 days.

“We hereby acknowledge your request for an extension, and having considered the circumstances prompting the request, we hereby grant you that extension until January 28, 2017.”

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