oversight

Review of Liquid Metal Fast Breeder Reactor Program

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1971-03-15.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                                     UNITED STATES \(;EMERALACCOUNTiNG CNTICE
                                                WASHINGTON,        D.C.    20548


ClVlL     DIVISION                                               March     15,      1971

                                                                                           lllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllYllllll
                                                                                                  LM089333

                 Dear Mr,    Shaw:

                          The General Accounting      Office    has reviewed    selected     aspects    of
                 the Atomic       Energy Commission’s      (AEC’S) Liquid    Metal Fast Breeder
                 Reactor     program being conducted         at the Argonne National       Laboratory
                 facilities       in Illinois  and Idaho.       Our review   was made pursuant        to
                 the Budget and Accounting         Act,    1921 (31 U,S.C.    53) and the Accounting
                 and Auditing       Act of 1950 (3f U.S.C.        67).   The review    was directed
                 primarily      toward an evaluation       of ArgonneIs    management of fuel        pro-
                 curement from commercial        sources for the Experimental            Breeder Reactor-Z
                  ( EBR-2 1o

                       FBR-2 is the primary         fast flux      irradiation          facility,   a sodium-
                 cooled fast   reactor,  used       for testing       materials         and fuels   for use
                 in liquid   metal cooled fast         breeder     reactors.          It was originally
                 designed as a prototype      to      demonstrate       central       power plant     operation,
                 but in 1966 was changed to           an irradiation         test     facility    to meet the
                 needs of the Liquid    Metal       Fast Breeder        Reactor       program,

                        Fuel elements      are used in EBR-2 to irradiate       experimental     sub-
                  assemblies    containing    fuel   or fuel materials.      An important    step in
                  the production     of fuel    elements   is the bonding process,      which is
                  to provide    a uniform o gas-free      sodium bond between the fuel       pin and
                  the jacket    to ensure maximum heat removal          from the fuel   element.

                        From‘1954      to 1961 Argonne     performed    research      on various      bonding
                methods,      including    the vibratory     and centrifuge       processes.        In the
                vibratory.      process,   the elements     are vibrated     vertically        to moisten
                the fuel pin and jacket          surfaces.       In the centrifuge         process,    the
                fuel    elements are placed        in slots    on a centrifuge        table    and are
                rotated     at high speeds.

                           The research     program showed that under laboratory              conditions
                 centrifuge        processing    had been successful,           However 9 Argonne      selected
                 the vibratory         process for in-house        production     at the Illinois       and Idaho
                 sites      because the centrifuge        device    would be relatively        complex,
                 difficult       to repair,     and limited     as to the length       and number of
                 elements that         could be processed       simultaneously.




                                              50TH ANNIVERSARY 1921-1971
  ,I ,1        . _’ “ii”‘.
        Bonding     problems    were experienced          during        quantity     production    of
  fuel  elements,      and research      was initiated         to eliminate          the problems.
  As a result     of this    research,     certain      modifications            were made, and
  the process,     now called      the impact       process,      was developed          and used
  to bond the remaining         elements    at Argonne's           Illinois       and Idaho sites.

           From June 1960 to February              1961 Argonne    produced      about 11,000
  fuel     elements     at Illinois        for the EBR-2 by'the       vibratory      and impact
  processes.         From fiscal        years 1965 to 1967 Argonne           bonded approxi-
  mately      24,000    fuel    elements      by the impact    process     at the Fuel Cycle
  Facility       at the Idaho       site.

         In 1966, AEC approved               Argonne's    proposal       to procure     fuel elements
  commercially         for use in EBR-2.           Argonne     considered       commercial       procure-
  ment necessary          to ensure an adequate           supply     of fuel     in the event of
  a breakdown        of in-house      facilities.         More importantly,         commercial
  sources      of fuel were needed because of (1) an anticipated                           increase
  in EBR-2 operations          as an irradiation            test facility        and (2) a
  proposed      redirection      of use of the in-house              facilities     which had
  been used for fuel          production.

            An Argonne       planning        document         dated May 1966 proposed                   EBR-2 fuel
  procurement        from commercial               sources        and stated          in part that          production
  facilities       of the vendor would be visited                          and a careful            inspection
  made to assure           that     the fuel         specifications            could       and would be met,
  The document         stated       that      the first        shipment        of commercially             fabricated
  fuel would be carefully                   evaluated,          including        irradiation          testing,       prior
  to the delivery            of large        quantities           of fuel.          In a September           1966
  study,      Argonne      again      stated       that     the first        shipment         of commercially
1 fabricated       fuel      elements        would be carefully                evaluated,         including
  irradiation        testing      ,   prior      to   approval         of  volume       production.

           In June 1967, Argonne          executed        a negotiated         fixed-price         contract
  with a commercial          source    for 34,000         fuel    elements        at a cost of
  $2.5 million.          With Argonne's         approval,       the contractor           used the
  centrifuge       bonding    process.        The contract          provided       for inspecting
  preproduction        and production         samples       of EBR-2 fuel for compliance
  with specifications           but did not provide            for irradiation             testing      of
  the fuel      elements     before    quantity       production         began.

          We found no documentation      concerning                        the  justification              for    Argonne's
  decision     not to provide    for prequalification                        irradiation             testing       of the
  fuel    elements.   Argonne    advised  us that                      no documentation              existed



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concerning       the decision         but that       such prequalification              had not been
considered       practical       because       the risks        involved      were not great        enough
to warrant       the incurrence          of the additional              costs of prequalification.
In our opinion,           if it was impractical               to provide        for irradiation        testing
of the fuel        elements      before      large     quantities        were delivered,         Argonne
should      have considered         requiring        the contractor           to use the impact
fabrication        process     to minimize         the risk        that    the elements        would be
unsatisfactory.

       Argonne   received     the initial     delivery of about 200 commercial        fuel
elements     in August    1968, but sample elements       were not loaded     into
EBR-2 for irradiation         tests    until  November 1968.   The irradiated      fuel
elements    were not available         for examination  until  March 1969, partly
because    EBR-2 was shut down during          January and February    1969.

       As a result   of the foregoing                 delays,      initial irradiation      tests   of
these elements     were not completed                 until    May 1969.     At that    time about
22,000   of the 34,000     fuel   elements             had been delivered         by the contractor
and accepted     by Argonne     as meeting             specifications,

       The initial     irradiation     tests    in May 1969 indicated                     that most of
the fuel     elements    were slumping--     the fuel    pins shortened                   in length
inside    the jackets,       and the diameter      in the lower    region                 of the elements
expanded     slightly.

        Without     knowing       the cause of the slumping            problem,     Argonne      instructed
the contractor         to discontinue          using    the centrifuge       bonding     process      for
the manufacture          of fuel     elements.        During   May, after       the initial        tests
and examination          of the fuel       were completed,         Argonne    determined       that
the slumping        in the fuel        elements      had been caused by the centrifuge
bonding      process     selected      by the contractor         and approved        by Argonne,
Subsequently        the contractor         delivered       the remainder      of the fuel        elements
in an unbonded         condition.

         After       the slumping       problem      was disclosed,         Argonne   was concerned
as to whether             any of the contractor's            fuel    could     be used in the EBR-2
reactor,           As a result      of this      problem,      Argonne      had to determine,        through
further        irradiation       tests,      whether     these fuel       elements    could   safely
achieve        the approved        burnup     level.

        While       evaluating       the quality         of the commercially-produced         fuel,
Argonne      initiated         in-house       production      of EBR-2 fuel elements       and
decided      to procure,           in addition        to those elements       already contracted
for,    about 9,000 fuel              jackets     and 600 kilograms       of uranium   alloy     to


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      '   be bonded under the impact      method    and completed     at                   the in-house
c "       facilities    at Argonne's  Idaho site.      The additional                        procurement
          was estimated    to cost about   $775,000.

                 Argonne       has endeavored            to determine         the cause of the slumping
          problem       and to institute           corrective       measures         to ensure      that the
          commercially-produced               fuel elements         will      safely     achieve       the approved
          burnup level.           We were informed             by the Division           of Reactor        Develop-
          ment and Technology             site     staff     that AEC Headquarters               staff     decided
          that Argonne         should     reheat,        and rebond when necessary,                 the
          commercially-produced               fuel     to ensure      the safe achievement                of the
          approved       burnup    level     which was increased                in November        1969 to a
          higher      level    than that        in effect       at the time of the contract:                  with
          the commercial          source.         As  of   January       1971     Argonne     had   heat    treated
          about 8,100 of the 22,000                  bonded fuel         elements       obtained       from the
          contractor.

                 We estimate      that,   in addition             to the undetermined         Argonne    costs
          of analyzing       the slumping    problem,             AEC will    incur   estimated      costs
          of $279,000,       as tabulated    below,            to determine      the cause of the
          slumping     problem    and to complete              the corrective       measures.

                 Argonne
                      Contractor's           services       related     to
                         slumping         problem                                                  $152,000

                        Heat treating        about 22,000      fuel    elements
                          to ensure       that    subsequently      approved
                          burnup    level      can be safely      achieved                          110,000

                 Savannah    River
                      Research     studies      concerning    radiation-
                         induced     shortening       of fuel   elements                              17,000

                                                                                                   $279,000

                  The EBR-2 project         manager informed             us that    a possible    modifica-
          tion    of fuel    element     acceptance   criteria            may eliminate       the need for
          rebonding     fuel    elements     which have been             or will    be heat treated.

          CONCLUSION

                  Although    Argonne        recognized,        prior     to the commercial       procurement
          of fuel elements         for     the EBR-2,        that     the fuel    elements    should     be
          evaluated      by irradiation           testing      before    delivery     of large    quantities,


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    ' no provision     for such testing       was made.     Further,       the contractor
c     was permitted      to use a fabrication       process    which had not been
      proven under quantity      production      conditions      and which,      even under
      laboratory    conditions,    had not been evaluated            through   irradiation
      testing.

                As previously       noted,     we found no documentation            concerning      the
      justification         for the decision         not to provide        for prequalification
      irradiation        testing      of the fuel     elements.        Argonne    advised      us that
      no documentation           existed     with respect       to the decision        but that
      such prequalification              had not been provided          for because       the risks
      involved       were not great         enough to warrant        the additional         costs of
      prequalification.

              We believe  that,     if it was impractical            to provide      for irradiation
      testing    of the fuel     elements   before      large     quantities      were delivered,
      Argonne    should  have considered       requiring        the contractor         to use the
      proven fabrication        process   to minimize        the risk        that the elements
      would be unsatisfactory.

              In our opinion,            in future        procurements          of commercially-produced
      fuel,     Argonne    should       give specific            consideration           to the need for
      prequalification           irradiation          testing,       and, if such testing            is not
      provided       for,  should       document        the bases for its determination                   that
      without       such testing        adequate        assurance        exists       that  the fuel    elements
      produced       by the contractor           will       perform      satisfactorily.

                The Division      of Reactor      Development       and Technology     advised             us
      that Argonne          has agreed    to consider       the need for prequalification
      irradiation         testing    in future     fuel   procurements         and to document
      the bases for its decisions               in this     regard.        Therefore,  we are
      making       no recommendation        concerning      this    matter,

                                                     a----




              We wish to acknowledge       the cooperation        extended      to us by your
      staff    during    our review.    We shall    appreciate       being    advised      of any
      actions      taken relating    to the matters      discussed       in this    report.

                                                                Sincerely     yours,                  ,

                                                                d&iz&p4
                                                                     fliiT&&&
                                                                Philip    A. Bernstein
                                                                Assistant    Director

      Mr. Milton    Shaw, Director
      Division    of Reactor   Development                   and Technology
      U, S. Atomic     Energy Commission
      Washington,    D. C. 20545

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