Event Reports: Seismic monitor reviews reveal many outages

Image result for byron nuclear power plant

I’m trying to play catch up after not posting anything in quite a length of time. I’ve decided to do a series of longitudinal reviews of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Event Notification Reports for the last month covering a number of subjects, beginning with seismic warning capabilities. The nation’s nuclear power plants have been tasked with reviewing seismic monitoring capabilities in the aftermath of the Fukushima earthquake and tsunami. There were five items in the March reports.

1. On March 20, Illinois’ Byron nuclear power plant submitted a report titled Seismic monitor not available for Emergency Plan Assessment:

“…this notification reports a loss of Emergency Preparedness assessment capability with the unplanned inoperable condition for the Byron seismic monitor. Specifically, the seismic monitor was declared non-functional at 0345 CST on March 7, 2015 following an unplanned loss of the seismic monitoring central computer. This condition adversely impacted the capability to perform an ALERT EAL (HA4) assessment in accordance with the Radiological Emergency Plan Annex.”

In addition, plant operators reported:

“…Byron Station has identified six previous occurrences where the Seismic Monitor was declared non-functional, which impacted the capability to perform an ALERT EAL (HA4) assessment in accordance with the Radiological Emergency Plan Annex. These occurred on November 6, 2014; April17, 2013; January 2, 2013; October 10, 2012; July 18, 2012 and July 9, 2012.

2. On March 27, the LaSalle facility, also in Illinois, “identified 6 times in the past 3 years that the seismic monitor was inoperable such that emergency classification at the ALERT level could not be obtained with site instrumentation.”

3. Also on March 27, Illinois’ Quad Cities nuke reported that its review had found three occasions when “the seismograph was non-functional….”

4. On March 30, Braidwood (Illinois again) reported five instances when seismic monitoring equipment was not available.

5. And also on that day, Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island reported out monitoring outage in the three year review.

Interesting fact: All five plants are operated by Exelon.

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Event Reports: A plethora of low level radioactive waste incidents

 

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After having spent the better part of the morning tilting with the Texas Low Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission, I thought I’d focus on a month or so of Nuclear Regulatory Commission Event Reports on the kinds of waste that are supposed (in theory) to be regulated by the Commission.

1. Everybody knows that delivery services sometimes screw up, but you’d think that carriers would be extra careful when it comes to radioactive materials. Well, you’d be wrong. QSA Global of Baton Rouge notified the NRC on February 10, 2015, of an incident that occurred the previous day when ” the common carrier delivered a ‘crate/container’ of [Radioactive Materials] RAM to the Baton Rouge, LA address that was intended for Seoul, South Korea.” But it was an error that was easy to understand: “The labeling on one of the Korean containers was not legible or missing….”

The shipment consisted of three containers, one of which was bound for Louisiana. The third box was supposed to go to South Korea.

I did some shipping and receiving long ago when I worked in a record store. (Long enough ago that there were still record stores.) There were some hard and fast rules: Every box needed to have a label and the label needed to have a “_ of _” piece count on it. Also, I wouldn’t sign for anything where the number of boxes didn’t match the shipping paperwork. But I guess Sound Warehouse was a little more organized than QSA Global.

But maybe getting the right number of copies of the new Dead Kennedys album needs more attention to detail than does the shipment of Iridium-192, which is what was dropped off eight thousand miles short of its intended destination.

2. On February 11, B&W Nuclear Operating Group of Lynchburg, Virginia, submitted an update on a previous Event Report on an incident that had taken place at its uranium fuel fabrication facility. Seems that scrap material (contaminated filters, vacuum cleaner bags and other industry detritus) is processed in the Low Level Dissolver, ” to reclaim as much of the uranium as possible.” According to the Event Report:

“On occasion during processing a slight amount of material will spill over the edge of the dissolver trays, filter bowls, or when hand-transferring material between the trays and filter bowls. These small spills collect on a large catch tray in the bottom of the enclosure. Periodically the catch tray is cleaned to limit the amount of material buildup. By procedure the solid material is to be scraped up and collected in a [less than or equal to] 2.5 liter container.”

But, apparently the safety procedures proved too complicated for the technicians:

“On January 9, 2015, the LLD process was shutdown and the enclosure was undergoing a routine cleanout. However on this occasion the operators scraped the material on the tray into several piles for subsequent collection into containers. The volume of most of the piles exceeded the 2.5 liter limit.”

The ever-vigilant NRC summarized the safety implications:

The scenarios for the handling of materials containing an unknown amount of U-235 assume the material is containerized rather than in piles. Some of the IROFS credited in these scenarios were therefore not available for the collection of the material in piles. Although the as-found condition presented no safety concern, the scenarios as documented in the ISA [Integrated Safety Analysis] did not demonstrate the performance requirements of 10 CFR 70.61 were maintained.”

But nothing blew up, so the NRC is satisfied:

“There was no immediate risk of a criticality or threat to the safety of workers or the public as a result of this event.”

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the seven scariest words in the English language are: “The public was never in any danger.”

3. Another transportation incident took place on Feb. 13, this time in Florida

“[The common carrier] was delivering 2 packages from CA to Isoaid in Port Richey (they dispose of the used material sent in by customers). The boxes at some point fell out of the truck and they were not discovered missing until the driver reached Isoaid. It is not known the exact time this [occurred], the phone call to the BRC [Bureau of Radiation Control] was at 1:40 pm. They did locate them but one package was run over and (1) I-125 seed was missing from the box.”

4. And while we’re talking about things falling off the back of trucks…. I don’t know why this report didn’t appear on the NRC page until February 18, since it happened three weeks earlier:

“On January 26, 2015, the licensee notified the Agency [State of Texas] that one of its technicians had left a temporary job site in Fort Worth and after traveling approximately 30 minutes toward another job site, he realized the tailgate was down [and the gauge was missing]. When he left the first site, he had left the Humboldt 5001EZ moisture/density gauge (SN: 3613), containing one 10 millicurie cesium-137 source and one 40 millicurie americium-241/beryllium source, on the tailgate and not secured in the back of the vehicle. The technician returned to the site and looked for the gauge.”

Apparently the driver wasn’t the only person looking for unsecured nuclear materials:

“Other construction workers at the site did produce the carrying case and the lock that had been on it, the standard block, and the flattening plate but not the gauge. The licensee is notifying local law enforcement and will return to the site in the morning with reward offer.”

5. In the category When Medical Devices Attack, there is this:

“On Friday, February 13, 2015, the Wisconsin Radiation Protection Section received notice from the Radiation Safety Officer (RSO) of Marshfield Clinic that their Leksell Gamma Knife Perfexion gamma stereotactic radiosurgery unit failed to function as designed. The Gamma Knife unit became stuck open and staff had to manually retract the patient bed and close the shielding doors on the unit.”

Hope the patient was sedated during the procedure.

6. On February 23, the State of Pennsylvania finally found out what set off the radiation monitors at a landfill on January 23. According to the original Event Report:

“A Pennsylvania landfill rejected a load of garbage based on elevated radiation readings (188 uR/h) and sent it back to NJ. PA identified the nuclides as Mn-54 and Co-57. [A New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP)] inspector went to the NJ garbage facility to verify the readings and nuclides.

“[NJDEP informed] the waste facility that [they] would be coming to observe the separation/isolation process, but [before the] inspector got there, they had already done everything. According to the facility personnel, there was a bag of metal parts (they opened it up), but had double bagged it by the time [the inspector] got there. [The] inspector got 23 mR/h on contact, 849 uR/h at 1 foot and 62 uR/h at 1 meter. Discussions revealed that no one picked it up with their hands and they were not near the source for very long.”

The update identified the culprit:

“The radioactive item was determined to be a small metal foil. No specific point of origin could be determined.”

Think I’ll wrap up here, although there’s plenty more where this came from. If you’d like to play along, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission posts Event Notification Reports Monday through Friday (excluding holidays) at www.nrc.gov.

 

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Water leak forces shutdown at Pennsylvania nuke

Allentown, Pennsylvania’s The Morning Call reported yesterday:

A water leak forced the shutdown of PPL Susquehanna nuclear power plant Unit 1 early Saturday morning.

PPL Susquehanna, a subsidiary of PPL Corp. in Allentown, described the problem in a press release as “a small water leak inside the containment structure” surrounding the reactor. 

One of the more frustrating things in following nuclear issues is separating fact from press release. As The Morning Call reported:

“Although the water leak is well within the plant’s limits for continued safe operation, operators began shutting the unit down as a conservative measure to complete repairs and enhance the unit’s reliability for the upcoming winter, when cold weather drives higher electricity use,” PPL said.

PPL expects to quickly identify the source of the water leak, complete repairs and resume generating electricity.

Hope to know more after tomorrow’s NRC Event Reports.

 

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WCS attempting to bring high-level radioactive waste to its West Texas dump

It’s official now.

Waste Control Specialists wants to expand its low-level radioactive waste dump in Andrews County to include the much more dangerous spent fuel rods from nuclear power plants. Spent fuel rods are classified as high-level waste, and are specifically exempted from being disposed of at the WCS site under the conditions of its current license.

That may change. As Odessa/Midland’s NBC affiliate NewsWest 9 reported Monday:

Legislators, nuclear waste specialists and more than 400 Andrews County residents gathered Monday night to discuss the possibility of storing high-level nuclear waste at a facility approximately 25 miles west of Downtown Andrews.

Waste Control Specialists (WCS) operates the radioactive waste site and is responsible for the low-level nuclear material already being treated, stored and disposed of in Andrews County.

Although opponents of the operation of the Andrews County were not invited to nor informed of the meeting, some allowance for comment has been provided. According to WCS president Rod Baltzer:

“Anybody with questions or concerns can also submit them on our website, WCSTexas.com.”

 

As of Friday afternoon, the only link on the WCS page concerning the new plan takes you to a 1 minute, 35 second YouTube video, which has a section for comments.

 

One of the most frightening scenarios concerning current operations at the low-level waste dump and even more so if WCS is allowed to dispose of high-level waste is a serious transportation accident. In the course of writing this post, I went to the NewsWest 9 web page and found two serious non-nuclear transportation accidents. One involved a major diesel spill on Highway 191, and the other concerned an oversize load hitting the Interstate 20 bridge. Serious as these accidents were, they could have been major catastrophes if either truck had been transporting low-level or high-level radioactive waste.

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A new record: Two new British reactors to cost $37.75 billion

The headline in today’s The Spectator pretty much says it all:

Is the Hinkley C nuclear power station the most expensive object ever built in Britain?

Ross Clark writes:

We might not have much of a coherent energy policy, but we do at least have the honour of breaking the record for the most expensive object ever built. According to Peter Atherton of Liberum Capital, speaking at the Spectator Energy Forum, the cost of Hinkley C nuclear power station, Britain’s first nuclear power plant in 30 years, to be built in Somerset by French power giant EDF, is now up to £24 billion. (That’s $37.75 billion in U.S. dollars.) ‘I’ve looked online to see if there was a more expensive object ever built but I couldn’t find one’ says Atherton. ‘The most expensive bridge was something like £6 billion and the most expensive building something like £5 billion.’ The cost of the electricity to the British consumer will be 64 per cent more than that of a French nuclear power station. EDF will be guaranteed a strike price of £92.50 per megawatt, uprated with the Consumer Prices Index every year for the next 35 years.

Not that I’d advocate it, but I wonder how much electricity you could produce if you put $37.75 billion one dollar bills in a pile and burned them?

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Electrical fire closes Belgian nuclear reactor

Reuters reported today:

Electrabel temporarily closed a nuclear reactor on Sunday after an electrical fire, Belgium’s electricity transmission system operator said, leaving only three of the Belgian firm’s seven nuclear plants in action.

Electrabel, part of France’s GDF Suez, had to halt the 1,000-megawatt Tihange 3, southwest of the city of Liege, after several electrical cables outside the reactor caught fire.

Electrabel was not immediately available for comment. Belgian news agency Belga quoted a company spokesman as saying the cause of the fire was a technical fault.

“On Sunday morning, a fire happened at Electrabel’s high-voltage power station on the site of Tihange 3,” said a spokeswoman for Elia, Belgium’s electricity transmission system operator. “Due to the fire, the generation unit was automatically disconnected from the grid.”

It was not immediately clear when Tihange 3 would restart.

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Georgia Public Service monitor says new units could be delayed beyond 2017 and 2018‏

What happens when you’ve got all your approvals for two new reactors, but the bottom’s fallen out of the nuclear industry after Fukushima, with continued low natural gas prices, general incompetence on the part of your contractors and the continued rise of market share staked out by wind and solar?

For Plant Vogtle in Georgia, the answer seems to be to hunker down and hope for a miracle, like proof that wind energy causes erectile dysfunction and gingivitis.

There’s still no proof of anything like that, so Vogtle is doubling down on the hunkering and hope that nobody reads the Augusta Chronicle, which reported last week:

Scheduling delays for two nuclear reactors under construction at Plant Vogtle are worsening, according to a report from a state-hired construction monitor.

William Jacobs, who monitors the Vogtle project for the Georgia Public Service Commission, wrote in a report released Monday that he thinks the new units will be delayed past their current forecasted completions of late 2017 and 2018. Based on current activities, “it is impossible to determine” when the units will be begin producing commercial power.

 

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