UCLA officials, who apparently failed to conduct all required safety tests before donating to a wildlife shelter materials that were scavenged from a nuclear reactor, also failed to document where they sent other reactor scrap, according to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Radiation safety officers from UCLA are performing radiation tests on 22 huge concrete blocks that shielded the core of the university reactor and were given to the Wildlife Waystation during decommissioning work.
The tests are needed because there are no records showing that one type of required radioactivity measurement was taken before the blocks, weighing about 5,000 pounds each, were hauled to the wildlife shelter in Little Tujunga Canyon in 1987.
But according to an NRC inspection report last February, other reactor components in addition to the blocks “were recycled for university use, provided to a metal recycler or given to the Wildlife Waystation.” And the university’s records were in such disarray that except for the concrete blocks, “it was not possible to determine the specific disposition of the components,” the report said.
But NRC officials said Wednesday that they see no need to try to trace the items. They said the fact that UCLA performed most required radiation tests and hauled the most contaminated items to a licensed radioactive waste dump suggests it was careful about what it recycled.
“I don’t want to underemphasize that we have a problem with them not having the records,” said Emilio Garcia, an inspector with the NRC western regional office in Walnut Creek. But it appears to be “an issue of proper documentation” rather than “public health and safety,” Garcia said.
But the head of the group that led the successful fight to shut down the test reactor several years ago said the case raises questions about the NRC’s regulatory role.
“I don’t see how they can know” there is no safety problem, said Daniel Hirsch, president of the anti-nuclear Committee to Bridge the Gap. UCLA “can’t find the records,” and the NRC “did no independent monitoring,” Hirsch said.
“They left it in the hands of the licensee, who screwed up,” he said.
Hirsch said that when he urged the NRC to follow up, he was told the agency operates “under the assumption that the licensee will comply with the regulations.
“I thought the purpose of the NRC was . . . to independently enforce those regulations,” he said.
But NRC spokesman Greg Cook said the commission is “not a large agency and we’ve got to put our manpower and our peoples’ time in those areas where there’s some probability of a risk to the public. . . .
“In this case, . . . it just isn’t there,” Cook said.
James McLaughlin, radiation safety director at UCLA, said he has taken steps to assure that from now on record-keeping will be “systematic and complete.”
Radiation safety officers from UCLA began testing the huge concrete blocks at the Wildlife Waystation last week. Those tests so far have produced no radiation readings above permissible limits, NRC and UCLA officials have said. The tests will be completed after equipment is brought in to lift the huge blocks so surfaces on the ground can be measured.
According to the NRC, records show that the university ran two of three required tests on the blocks before declaring them non-radioactive. The blocks were tested for removable contamination and for radiation levels one meter away. They are now being tested for fixed contamination, which results when atoms of the concrete become radioactive under neutron bombardment.
In 1987, either the blocks were not all tested for fixed contamination or records of those tests were lost.