La Jolla–based military contractor General Atomics, maker of the Predator drone and other lucrative pieces of battle-ready hardware, also provides radiation monitoring systems for atomic reactors. The company’s latest installation came in July of this year at Watts Bar Unit 2 in Tennessee, “the first new U.S. nuclear power plant scheduled to be put into operation since 1996,” says a news release by the firm. “Since 1965, we’ve maintained a solid reputation for designing and manufacturing the highest quality, most reliable safety-related products, and for continually supporting our products and our customers throughout a plant’s lifecycle,” executive Scott Forney was quoted as saying.
But the story is different in a November 29 Notice of Nonconformance, sent to the company’s Electromagnetic Systems Group here by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. That document says the quality of the detection devices is questionable, leading to potentially mistaken radiation readings. Among other omissions listed in the 38-page document, 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.” In addition, the company failed to “verify the adequacy of the calibration services…which could adversely affect the accuracy of [radiation monitoring system’s] detectors.” On top of that, inspectors witnessed “staff adding and removing lead shields from the stack of lead bricks below the platform without documenting the change in configuration.”
Per the report, “staff were unaware of the amount of scattered radiation in the area, and the effect of adding and removing lead from the cart on the amount of scattered radiation.” Said the notice, “verification of the material-critical characteristics specified [for use] in safety-related applications was not performed and the connector was not adequately dedicated for operation in harsh environments.”
Concludes the document, “Please provide a written statement or explanation within 30 days from the date of this letter in accordance with the instructions specified in the enclosed Notice of Nonconformance. The NRC will consider extending the response time if you show good cause for the agency to do so.”