An oilfield support services company whose Kenai office was cited in 2014 for radiation safety violations has been issued a $7,000 fine by the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).
Acuren USA, a company that uses radiography to inspect the integrity of pipeline welds, was cited for seven violations following an unannounced April 10, 2014 inspection of its facility at 14896 Kenai Spur Highway by NRC health physicists. Inspectors found that Acuren “was conducting industrial radiographic operations in close proximity to members of the public without having the radiation area posted or being physically observed by the radiography crew,” according to an inspection report released March 24, 2016.
Although the report states that “a substantial potential” existed for radiation exposure, it further states that calculations based on Acuren’s exposure logs and a reenactment of the circumstances demonstrated that “no member of the public actually received a radiation dose in excess of regulatory limits.”
“When the two inspectors walked by the facility, their meters started to signal the fact that they were in a radiated area,” said NRC’s Public Affairs Officer Victor Dricks. “Based on the subsequent area inspection, they determined that no one had been exposed.”
Acuren’s Kenai station shares a small industrial lot and a nearby office complex with other companies — four at the time of the violation, according to the report. The property is owned by the Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District, which leases the property and has its own offices there.
On April 10, 2014, Acuren radiography technicians were using radiation to inspect the welds of a pipe assembly in a company garage approximately 50 feet north of the offices. NRC inspectors did a routine unannounced inspection of the Kenai Acuren facility while the pipe was being exposed.
The inspectors noticed a row of cones and radiation signs between the garage and the office building, but no other warnings or barriers. At the northwest corner of the garage during two minutes of exposure, their survey meters “suddenly read off-scale,” indicating a radiation level greater 200 millirems per hour above natural background amounts.
The NRC’s standard for a healthy level of radiation exposure for the general public is 100 millirems per year above the approximately 360 millirems per year that most people absorb from natural background radiation sources and 310 milirems per year from industrial, medical and commercial radiation sources.
According to the NRC’s website, a full-body CAT scan exposes the patient to 1,000 milirems. The NRC limit for nuclear workers is 5,000 milirems/year.
In May 2014 Acuren employees and NCR inspectors performed a re-enactment to test radiation levels at different distances and directions from the garage during a 12-minute radiography session similar to the one that took place during the inspection. Based on that re-enactment, inspectors calculated that occupants of the closest office building — 50 feet to the south — would not have received more than the standard 100 millirem/year exposure to radiation.
Radiation measurements at the exterior wall of the garage were higher, however, than those 50 feet away. Because of the arrangement of the radiography equipment’s shielding, the highest radiation levels were measured at the north and east exterior walls of the garage — 122 millirems per hour and 419 millirems per hour respectively. Outside the garage’s west wall, inspectors measured 12 millirems per hour.
Inside the closed garage, the technicians were unable to look over the entire area affected by the radiation, which the NRC requires them to do. In addition, Acuren was cited for a failure to put notifications and barriers around the area, as well as failing to conduct six-month performance reviews and annual safety training for radiographers, and to annually review its radiation safety plan. An Anchorage field station was also inspected in April 2014 and cited for administrative violations.
Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District Executive Director Rick Roeske said as a condition of Acuren’s lease with his organization, the company no longer does radiography at the Kenai facility.
Acuren’s website shows that the company has stations and offices in 31 states and eight Canadian provinces. According to previous Clarion reporting, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has previously cited Acuren in 2010 for security violations in Michigan, Wyoming and Texas, and in 2007 for failing to inspect a Virginia facility for “compliance with dose limits to individual members of the public.”
Dricks said the NRC had not fined Acuren any other time in recent years. The amount of the fine was determined based on the NRC’s categories gauging the severity of the violation, similar to the way the criminal justice system attaches fine amounts to the various classes of felonies and misdemeanors, he said.
Reporter Elizabeth Earl contributed reporting. Reach her at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion. Reach Ben Boettger at firstname.lastname@example.org.