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The Nation

New safety notification procedures for the Energy Department’s troubled Savannah River Plant in South Carolina, which makes nuclear weapons material, were lost in “paper work” for a month last summer, a spokeswoman said. During the delay, the plant operator waited 40 hours before notifying DOE of a small power surge that caused the shutdown of one of three atomic reactors at the plant, said the spokeswoman, Becky Craft. The delay in notification violated both the new and the previous guidelines, she said, and efforts have been made to improve procedures. DOE and E.I. du Pont Nemours & Co., which operates the plant under contract, have come under fire in recent days because of disclosures that during a 28-year period, up to 30 significant reactor mishaps there were not reported to the public and, in some cases, to Washington. As part of an effort to improve safety and reporting procedures at Savannah River, the only U.S. facility that produces weapons-grade plutonium and tritium, Energy Undersecretary Joseph Salgado issued a new order on June 21. The order requires the contractor and the regional Energy Department office, in Aiken, S.C., to notify the Washington headquarters immediately in the event of a safety problem.


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