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CEO Krishna Singh Says Broken Canister Ventilation Pins ‘Much Ado about Nothing,’ Cites Problems with Industry at Violations Hearing
By Eric Heinz
Krishna Singh, Ph.D., defended his company’s response and corrective actions with every breath during a Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) hearing on Wednesday, Jan. 9 intended to examine two violations alleged by the commission. The meeting was broadcast from the NRC’s headquarters in Maryland.
Singh, the president, founder and CEO of Holtec International, Inc., which is providing the dry-cask storage canisters at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS), addressed what happened when it was discovered some of the pins that help with helium circulation system that keep the canisters temperatures lower had been bent and one had broken off.
The violations stemmed not necessarily from the shim pins breaking off or being damaged but the designs the NRC officials said were not submitted when it made the change to its canisters in 2016. The older canisters have the circulation designs but not the additional pins, which Singh said are not required by the NRC but do give the repositories an added benefit.
Holtec came to the table ready to accept most of the terms the NRC’s violation findings but not that they merited major enforcement. Singh said Holtec submitted reports but did not put the shim pins through a final development phase.
Singh directed the blame on this process on a “nexus between design and manufacturing”—not just at Holtec but industry-wide.
“Learning from this episode, Holetc has performed processes and made numerous improvements to prevent damage to equipment during handling and manufacturing and transporting to the side, which are typically in excess to safety standards,” he said
But Singh went to quoting William Shakespeare as to the severity of the problem.
“It’s much ado about nothing,” he said during his presentation. “The SSOs (shim pins) play no role in the safety performance…they can be correctly characterized as a not-important-to-safety piece.”
So, then why bother putting in the shim pins?
“We wanted (to harness) the same kilowatts out of one canister and that motivated us to build the shim stand-off,” Singh said, describing in jest that the design is engineering “greed” to get the most out of the canisters, but he also said consideration would need to be taken with the shim pin design if Holtec were to construct canisters that would hold more of the spent nuclear fuel. In total, the canisters at SONGS weigh about 50 tons each with dozens of spent fuel rods a unit.
Although the damaged shim pins did not cause one of the canisters stored at SONGS to exceed maximum temperatures, the canister did get hotter, according to Holtec’s own analysis of the situation.
Holtec also rejected the NRC’s statement that the shims help support the fuel baskets that hold the spent fuel rods from resting on the bottom of the canister; they are intended for circulation only.
Singh also blamed social media posts for distorting what the shim pins are intended to do.
Toward the end of the hearing, NRC officials said that there is no public safety issue with canisters at this time taking place at SONGS.
Activists and concerned citizens who called in during the hearing questioned the validity of Holtec’s claims. Public Watchdogs director Charles Langley said he had not been given a copy of the root cause determination report, and claimed that it had been deemed proprietary information at the time of his request. The report is intended to show what caused the incident in the Holtec case.
Enforcement options include findings of no violation, a warning of violation or a civil penalty or order that can include specific actions required to take. It depends on the specifics of the case. Despite the outcome of the cases, the NRC can use discretion for enforcement depending on the severity of the violations, and this process can take 30 to 60 days.
On Thursday, the NRC announced that it would discuss preliminary findings on the Aug. 3 incident involving a canister at SONGS that was stuck on an outer ring while being loaded by contractors with Holtec during a webinar on Jan. 24. The meeting will not make an enforcement determination.
SONGS is currently on hold with transferring its spent nuclear fuel following the discovery and enforcement process.
To register for the Jan. 24 webinar, click here.
To watch the entirety of the Jan. 9 Holtec-NRC hearing, click here, although it may not yet be available on the NRC archive page.