Fission Stories #138: U-235–Return to Somebody?

June 4, 2013
Dave Lochbaum
Former contributor

FirstEnergy, the owner of the Perry nuclear plant in northern Ohio, wrote to the NRC on March 15, 2013 about a security problem.

The company had ordered 34 local power range monitors (LPRMs) from the General Electric Reuter Stokes facility in Twinsburg, Ohio for delivery to their Perry Nuclear Power Plant in Perry, Ohio. LPRMs contain a mixture of the Uranium-234 and Uranium-235 isotopes and are placed inside the reactor core. The LPRMs monitor the number of neutrons traveling around various axial and radial locations of the reactor core and provide inputs to safety systems that can automatically shut down the reactor when its power level rises too high. The LPRMs also provide inputs to the plant computer system for calculations of power distribution with the core. Uranium-235 is a fissile isotope of uranium that also forms part of the nuclear fuel.

On January 16, 2013, the LPRMs containing Uranium-235—deemed special nuclear material under federal regulations warranting tight accounting and control measures—were mistakenly delivered to First Solar in Perrysburg, Ohio instead of to the Perry nuclear plant. Someone signed for the shipment and the delivery truck left.

The loss of the special nuclear material was detected within an hour and the delivery truck returned to the site—the First Solar site in Perrysburg and not the FirstEnergy site in Perry—and retrieved the LPRMs. They were returned to General Electric Reuter Stokes in Twinsburg who verified that all special nuclear material was present and accounted for.

Our Takeaway

First Solar instead of FirstEnergy.

Perrysburg instead of Perry.

But at least they got the Ohio part right.

One out of three ain’t bad—it’s disgraceful.

After 9/11, the federal government imposed all kinds of security measures that, among other things, ensure no one sneaks a bottle with more than three ounces of shampoo onto an airliner.

But 34 LPRMs containing special nuclear material can be delivered to someone not authorized to possess this restricted material merely because their mailing address is similar to the proper entity. This security process is not robust as touted—it’s busted.

But Americans should not lose any sleep over such sloppy security measures. Doing so might encourage those responsible for such laxity to sleep on the job even more to balance it all out.

 

“Fission Stories” is a weekly feature by Dave Lochbaum. For more information on nuclear power safety, see the nuclear safety section of UCS’s website and our interactive map, the Nuclear Power Information Tracker.