News that one of his tenants had suspended operations, after a surprise inspection by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, came as a shock to Rick Roeske, executive director of the organization that owns the building where the Kenai branch of Acuren USA has been housed for more than five years.
Staff at the Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District has since met with inspectors from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, or NRC, and been assured that other tenants in the building had not been over-exposed to radiation and were safe, Roeske said.
“We didn’t get a notification from Acuren, we got notification from the media and that’s the first we heard of it,” Roeske said. “We were as surprised as everyone else.”
Technically the company was not required to report its encounter with the NRC as it was not spelled out in the terms of its lease with the economic development district, he said.
The company is licensed to use radioactive materials when inspecting pipe welds and on April 10 NRC inspectors on a surprise inspection of the facility, 14896 Kenai Spur Highway, had meter readings that went “off-scale” close to the building, according to a confirmatory action letter issued to the company.
An initial dose estimate suggested that a member of the public standing near the building during testing could have gotten a dose of radiation in excess of mandated annual limits, according to the letter.
Inspectors moved about 40 feet away from the building and their survey meter read about 200 mR/hour during the two minutes that Acuren was conducting testing. 200 mr/hour, or millirems per hour, exceeds the federally mandated guidelines for an annual limit to radiation exposure which is 100 millirems, though, inspector Lara Uselding, public affairs officer for the NRC, told KBBI, the Homer-based public radio station, that annual limit is “very low” and would be lower than what the average person would receive from background sources of radiation.
Inspectors determined that Acuren employees had conducted at least six two-minute exposures that day over the course of about one hour, according to the action letter. The company told the NRC that it had suspended radiographic operations on April 14, according to the letter. However, reports of that suspension were not widespread until the NRC released its notice of confirmatory action letter 11 days later on April 25.
Acuren USA has 80 locations in North America, including offices in Fairbanks, Prudhoe Bay, Anchorage and Kenai. It employs more than 3,500 people according to its website.
The company has a history of violations according to NRC documentation, including a 2007 citation for failing to inspect a Virginia facility for “compliance with dose limits to individual members of the public” and 2010 inspections in Michigan, Wyoming and Texas which found apparent violations of security requirements. One of those violations may have resulted in a radiography device and radioactive material in a pickup truck being stolen near Austin, Texas, according to NRC records.
All calls to Acuren regarding the incident were directed to Rockwood Service Corporation, parent company for Acuren. Calls for comment made in April were not returned, however an attorney with the corporation did leave a message at the Clarion Wednesday indicating that he was available for comment. He did not answer a return call by press time.
Roeske said a team from NRC had been out to the building and had done some testing with Acuren in its facility. The team also met with the other tenants in the building.
The economic development district building houses at least seven business, each with tenants and staff. Roeske estimated that between 15-25 people were in the building at any given time.
“(The NRC) held tenant interviews with everyone in the building and they did go through and do checks. They were very thorough,” he said. “They went through the building, checked everything, talked to all of the tenants, reassured all of the people in the building.”
The NRC will issue a final report on the situation, Roeske said.
“They did find some administrative lapses with Acuren, but they will be dealt with between the Nuclear Regulatory Commission an Acuren and then (NRC) will shoot me a link to their report,” he said.
Roeske said he heard rumors that there was excessive radiation in the building, but was told that those rumors were untrue.
While the NRC was running its follow-up testing with Acuren, measurements remained low, he said.
“(NRC) have what they call a threshold level and (the measurements) didn’t meet that threshold level,” he said.
Once the report is issued, Roeske said economic development district staff would be reviewing its lease with Acuren to add language saying the company needed to communicate with staff if there were issues with its operations.
“We have tenants and we’re a business incubation center and we try to share services and provide services but one of those services (in return) is to not scare other tenants,” he said, with a laugh.
Rashah McChesney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.