NRC Approves Reactor Restart, Levies $5,000 Fine
ATLANTA (AP) _ The Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Tuesday said Georgia Tech may restart its nuclear reactor, but fined the school $5,000 for safety violations that prompted the reactor’s shutdown.
Georgia Tech President John P. Crecine has said the school might mothball the reactor even if it met NRC standards. He has questioned whether the reactor was tied closely enough to Tech’s teaching and research missions.
After Tuesday’s NRC announcement, the school said Crecine would issue a statement later in the day.
The school could appeal the fine.
The NRC did not penalize Tech for the firings, later reversed, of two employees who discussed reactor safety with the federal agency. Acting NRC Regional Administrator Malcolm Ernst said there was not enough evidence to prove a violation.
Ernst said the school has made ″substantial changes″ to remedy the situation and cautioned officials to continue to stress to supervisors that employees have the right to raise safety concerns without fear of reprisals.
Ernst said the fine was assessed for incomplete and poorly followed procedures for radiation safety and a failure to determine the extent of radiation hazards.
In a separate letter to Crecine, he said the NRC staff agreed to a restart of the 5-megawatt reactor because of improvements in the areas cited by the agency and the ″regulatory sensitivity″ training which Tech has provided to reactor employees.
In January, the NRC ordered Tech to cease irradiation experiments at the Neely Nuclear Research Center, which accounted for about 20 percent of the reactor’s operations.
Crecine ordered a complete shutdown in February and appointed a committee to study the reactor and its role at the school. In June, the committee recommended the restart.
Meanwhile, Tech fired two reactor safety officers, saying neither had a bachelor’s degree in health physics and should be replaced by people with master’s degrees. The NRC questioned the dismissals, and Tech later rehired them in other departments.
Experiments involving the reactor had included studies of food preservation, cancer prevention, pollution control and metallurgy.