August 1, 2002
Company fined for not telling feds it used radioactive materials on ship
By DANA WILKIE
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE
Federal regulators have fined a San Diego company $6,000 for
failing to tell them it was using radioactive materials on a Navy
ship based here.
The company, Decisive Testing Inc., used a powerful and
potentially dangerous radionuclide to make sure the welding on
ships was sound. But the company did not notify the Nuclear
Regulatory Commission or pay the required $1,200 fee to
conduct the work.
The president of Decisive Testing, an industrial radiography
company that has operated in San Diego for 32 years, said his
company was aware of the NRC requirements. President Michael
May said an associate intended to tell authorities about the work
after it was performed, which the NRC does not allow.
Decisive Testing examines the integrity of the welding in
everything from golf clubs to airplanes. Between January and
March 2001, the company was inspecting welds on the
Constellation, an aircraft carrier that was at Pacific Ship Repair &
Fabrication Inc .
Decisive Testing uses iridium-192, a highly radioactive material
in the form of a hard pellet, to take a "picture" of a weld. The
iridium is encased in stainless steel. When the picture is taken,
the iridium is exposed, much as a shutter opens to expose film in
a camera. And much as an X-ray can reveal cracks in a bone, this
process can detect flaws in a weld.
The iridium can be harmful, or even deadly, if exposed for too
long outside its casing. The person conducting the test typically
takes the picture from as far away as 25 feet, using elongated
Mark Shaffer, chief of the nuclear materials inspection branch
for the Texas-based NRC office that governs the West, said the
NRC insists on monitoring such work because several things can
go wrong: People might walk too close to the radiation, for
instance, or the operator may unknowingly leave the
radioactive pellet exposed long after the image is taken –
something he said happens more often than his office would like.
"If they (leave the radiation) out for a day and someone's
standing right next to it, then you're talking about lethal doses of
radiation," said Shaffer, whose office ordered the fine in early
June. "If they do everything correctly and follow our
regulations, it's highly unlikely there would be a problem."
Regulators discovered the lapse during a surprise inspection of
Decisive Testing's offices in August 2001. "Without proper
notification, the NRC cannot conduct inspections . . . to assure
that (companies) . . . are conducting their activities safely,"
according to the NRC order imposing the fine.
Shaffer said a review of the company's work on the Constellation
indicated that safety precautions were followed and that no one
was exposed to radiation.
On a scale of 1 to 4, with 1 being the most severe, Decisive
Testing's violation was considered a 3 by the NRC.
May is trying to convince the NRC that the $6,000 fine – the
maximum imposed for such a violation – should be lower
because his company has no history of serious or repeat
violations. So far, the NRC has rejected his arguments.
"We admit the individual had done this," May said. "What we're
saying is (the NRC considers) mitigating circumstances (and)
normally makes reductions for these reasons off the maximum
fine. They failed to do so."
May has appealed the NRC decision to a panel of NRC judges that
will hear his case. A hearing date has not been set.