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Energy Department Shuts Down Four Nuclear Reactors

March 27, 1987

OAK RIDGE, Tenn. (AP) _ Federal officials on Friday blamed the shutdown of four research reactors at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which could last for months, on management problems.

Thursday’s shutdowns, plus the idling of a fifth reactor last November, leave the research facilities without an operating reactor.

Joe LaGrone, manager of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge operation, said the shutdowns followed an investigation spurred by the discovery last year that reactor walls of the High Flux Isotope Reactor were brittle from long-term radiation.

″While there is no single concern expressed which suggests an immediate safety issue, taken together these concerns are indicative of a management problem which, if not corrected immediately, could possibly lead to a safety issue,″ LaGrone said.

Bill Kaspar, DOE’s deputy manager at Oak Ridge, said Energy Department officials will meet with Oak Ridge operations contractor Martin Marietta Energy Systems Inc. to determine what corrective steps should be taken.

The shutdown probably will last a few months, although it could be as short as a month, Kaspar said.

″We are fully committed to the safe operation of all facilities,″ said Ed Aebischer, spokesman for Martin Marietta. ″We will address promptly and thoroughly all concerns raised.″

Among the problems with the research reactor program were inadequate quality assurance and training of staff, and poor documentation of maintenance efforts, said Kaspar. The Energy Department regulates its own nuclear facilities.

The facility was involved in medical and industrial use projects, including production of radio isotopes. Among medical uses for isotopes are the diagnoses of diseases, including osteoporosis. Industrial uses include the examination of welds in oil rigs, Kaspar said.

Kaspar said Martin Marietta, which is in charge of the reactors, was not entirely to blame.

″There’s enough blame to go around. This problem has come on us gradually,″ he said.

Martin Marietta has been DOE’s principal contractor for Oak Ridge operations since 1984. The previous contractor was Union Carbide.

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