The world is currently undergoing a nuclear power renaissance. During the next 20 years, it is antici- pated that approximately 250 new nuclear power plant projects will be launched. To operate the cur- rent and projected nuclear power plants will require a reliable source of fuel. URENCO has been filling a crucial role in the nuclear fuel cycle for the past 30 plus years by operating uranium enrichment plants in Great Britain, Germany, and the Netherlands. The three URENCO European enrich- ment plants have been supplying approximately 25% of the world’s need for enriched uranium. In 2006, URENCO was granted a license by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to build a gaseous centrifuge uranium plant (URENCO-USA) in Eunice, New Mexico. Like the technology employed at the European facilities, the URENCO- USA plant processes uranium hexafluoride with a natural uranium-235 concentration of about 0.711% and concentrates the uranium-235 content to up to about 5% which is required for use in commercial nuclear power plants. In June 2010, just four years after receiving a construction license, URENCO- USA began commercial operation.
While much has been written about the nuclear safe- ty of nuclear facilities, far less has been written about the industrial safety at nuclear facilities. Since the URENCO-USA facility is the first to incorporate the NRC combined construction and operating license, we feel it is important to emphasize the industrial safety as much as the nuclear safety. Our shared emphasis is important as we are continuing to base operations on both. URENCO-USA strong- ly believes that industrial safety and nuclear safety go hand-in-hand, and both are key indicators in the quality of work being performed. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 4,340 work related deaths during 2009. Construction is reported as one of the ten most dangerous occupations. The URENCO- USA site is a massive complex, which, at full build out, will have the capacity to provide about 50% of the enriched uranium required to fuel all of the com- mercial power plants in the United States. At peak construction, over 2,500 workers were on site, to assist in this process. URENCO-USA’s achieve- ment of a four-year time period, from licensing to commercial operations, is atypical for nuclear proj- ects.
Since the project beginning, URENCO-USA has worked over 10,000,000 person hours without a construction related lost time accident. During 2010, there were also periods of 149 days and 44 days without even a recordable injury. The 149 days without a recordable injury ended when an office worker slipped on ice in the parking lot and received a prescription medication. In recognition of UREN- CO-USA’s outstanding safety record, a number of safety awards have been received. The National Safety Council (NSC) presented URENCO-USA with the “Industry Leader” award, which is given to less than 1% of the NSC member companies. The Safety Program has become a source of pride at URENCO-USA. The site Safety Officer, Carl
Bailey, has been at the site since September, 2006, and has seen the safety program grow from a con- cept to a way of life. Carl believes there are a num- ber of factors that have contributed to the current outstanding safety record. First and most important is strong management support. The daily meeting starts with a safety discussion, presented by safety personnel, and quite often, added to by senior man- agement and/or line management. URENCO-USA has demonstrated the willingness to stop production, including critical path work, if safety issues arise. URENCO-USA believes the principle of preventing first aid and recordable injuries, which will, in turn, likely minimize the likelihood of a lost time acci- dent. First aid events are tracked and trended. Goals are not set for first aid events as the emphasis is on encouraging all first aid events to be recorded. For each recordable injury, a Senior Management Safety meeting is held, attended by the Chief Operating Officer, Vice Presidents for Operations, Construction, and Engineering and the Plant Support Director. A root cause analysis of the event is pre- sented by the organization who sustained the injury. This is followed by discussions on actions to be taken to prevent recurrence. Events are covered in detail even for simple injuries. An example of this is a security officer straining a knee while jogging on a paved track during the annual physical qualifi- cation. The review lasted several hours. Where con- tractors are involved in an injury, the owner of the company is requested to participate in the Senior Management Safety meeting.
with 20 or more personnel is also required to employ at least one safety officer. Weekly meetings are held between contractor safety officers and facil- ity safety personnel to exchange site safety informa- tion. Site safety bulletins are issued weekly. In addition, URENCO-USA has a recognition program for employees to demonstrate company and manage- ment appreciation for safe work efforts. During 2009, managers served lunch for over 2,200 workers to celebrate safe work performance. Each site employee received shirts. In addition, multiple $50 gift-cards, 16 big-screen televisions, seven Las Vegas vacations and one award of $25,000 were pre- sented in random drawings for workers. Workers fully believe management supports Safety First!
While all injuries, no matter how small, must be reported, the number of reportable injuries has remained amazingly low. During the last part of 2009 and the beginning of 2010, the site went almost 6 months with only one recordable injury. This injury was attributed to an office worker slip- ping on the ice and receiving a prescription medica- tion. Site personnel routinely joke that it is apparent- ly safer to work in the field than in an office! It is often easy to forget about office workers when con- centrating on thousands of construction workers. All this accomplished, Mr. Sorrell comments “twen- ty years from now, I might not remember if I met a production milestone, but I will always remember reaching 10,000,000 person hours without a lost time construction related injury and I know, for sure, if there was ever a fatality on this site, I would never live with myself!”
Mr. Allen Sorrell is the Plant Support Director for URENCO-USA. Previously, Sorrell served as the Radiation Protection Manager at Watts Bar and Browns Ferry Nuclear Plants, Plant Maintenance Manager and Outage Director at Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant, and corporate Radiation Protection/Chemistry Manager for TVA. Sorrell earned a BS in Chemistry from Old Dominion University and a MBA from the University of North Alabama.
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