U.S. NRC Blog

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Throwback Thursday: Which Plant Is This?

tbtninemilepointSeen from an aerial perspective, a boiling water reactor site is under construction — carved out of part of a 1,500-acre site. Look familiar? Can you guess what plant this is and roughly what year this photo was taken?

NRC Inspectors Head to Indian Point 3’s Electrical Supply Room

Neil Sheehan
Public Affairs Officer
Region I

Dousing the fire that ensued after one of the Indian Point 3 nuclear power plant’s main transformers failed on the evening of May 9th required substantial amounts of water, as well as foam. The water was applied by the automatic fire-suppression system for the transformer and by the on-site fire brigade and firefighters from off-site who provided assistance.

indianpointOne of the follow-up concerns for the NRC is that during the event, some water was found on the floor of an enclosed room inside the plant housing electrical supply equipment. The power that flows through that equipment is used to operate plant safety systems and components.

The equipment was not affected by the water during the May 9th event, and the plant was safely shut down. The plant remains out of service while work to install a replacement transformer is carried out.

In order to better understand what occurred, the NRC is launching a Special Inspection at the plant today. The three-member team will evaluate, among other things, how the water – apparently totaling an inch or two on the room’s floor — ended up in the room; and the potential for a significantly larger volume of water to build up and adversely impact the electrical equipment.

The NRC applies risks insights and specific knowledge of plants when determining whether to perform a follow-up inspection and what type. In this case, the NRC decided it was appropriate to conduct a Special Inspection, the first level of “reactive” reviews performed in response to an event. The agency performs such inspections to independently evaluate and assess what occurred during an event, as well as any plans by the plant’s owner to fix related problems.

In addition to the Special Inspection, the NRC is continuing to review the transformer failure, operator and equipment response during the event, and other issues.

A report containing the findings of the Special Inspection will be issued within 45 days after the formal conclusion of the review.

Throwback Thursday – Name the Scientist

Chemist Glenn Seaborg stands next to a periodic table. He is pointing at the synthetic element seaborgium, which is named after him. Dr. Seaborg, a former Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemestry in 1951.

This scientist is best known for discovering an important element, as well as winning the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. His other claim to fame – and the one he apparently cherished most highly – was having an element named in his honor. What was the scientist’s name? What element did he discover and which one was named for him?

Indian Point Transformer Fire

Diane Screnci
Senior Public Affairs Officer
Region I

NRC inspectors are following up on a transformer fire at Indian Point Energy Center over the weekend. The NRC Resident Inspectors for Indian Point – who work at the plant on a daily basis – are monitoring activities at the site while plant workers are troubleshooting and looking for the cause of the fire on the Unit 3 main transformer.

The transformer fire happened at about 6 p.m. on Saturday night. A sprinkler system initially extinguished the flames, but it reignited and was put out by the onsite fire brigade and local fire departments. The fire caused the reactor to automatically shut down, as designed. All safety systems worked as designed. There was no danger to the public and no release of radiation. The reactor is stable. Unit 2 continues to operate at full power.

Plant operators declared an “unusual event” – the lowest of the emergency classifications – in accordance with plant procedures. All plants have procedures, approved by the NRC, that dictate how events are classified to ensure appropriate steps are taken to respond to the event and to communicate the event to local and state agencies and the NRC.

In addition to cooling provided by fans, the main transformer is also cooled by oil flowing through it. On Saturday, oil from the transformer spilled into the plant’s discharge canal. Entergy has been working to determine how much oil was spilled.

The transformer that failed carries electricity from the main generator to the electrical grid. The same type of equipment can be found at any plant that generates electricity. It is on the electrical generation side of the plant – not the nuclear side.

As far as next steps go, plant employees will determine what happened and why. They will repair or replace any equipment that was damaged in the fire. The plant can restart when ready. NRC inspectors will be monitoring Entergy’s actions every step of the way, ensuring workers are taking all appropriate actions.

As we do with any event at a plant, we’ll continue to review what happened and how the plant responded. If need be, we’ll send additional inspectors to the site to look further into the event and its effects.

Heeding the Sirens – Despite A Few Mishaps

Victor Dricks
Senior Public Affairs Officer
Region IV

sirenResidents of St. Charles Parish, Louisiana, who live within the 10-mile emergency planning zone for the Waterford 3 nuclear plant, got an unexpected benefit last week when 37 emergency sirens were sounded for a tornado warning.

St. John Parish is similarly protected by 36 sirens. But thousands of other residents who live in surrounding parishes have no sirens.

The reason: The NRC and FEMA work together to make sure the commercial nuclear power plants in this country have sirens around their sites to alert the public in the event of a serious incident. Various federal, state and local agencies also have emergency notification systems they can use to alert the public to a variety of emergencies — including one at a nuclear plant.

“The people of St. Charles Parrish got the benefit of the emergency sirens that surround Waterford 3,” said Ron Perry, the Director of Emergency Preparedness for Homeland Security in St. Charles Parish.

Each nuclear plant is required to exercise its emergency plan with offsite authorities at least once every two years – which includes checking the siren systems. This helps make sure the plant operator, and state and local authorities, can implement their emergency plans if needed. If all goes according to plan, the interface among all these agencies is seamless.

But things do not always go as planned.

Last year, while preparing for an upcoming emergency exercise at the plant, the National Weather Service inadvertently alerted the public around the Cooper Nuclear Station in Brownville, Neb., of an unspecified emergency at the plant. The weather service was updating the wording of messages stored in a computer system when someone pushed the wrong button. This sent an advisory to various news media organizations and some members of the public.

The weather service quickly realized what happened and sent a message explaining the error to the media 13 minutes later. But, the mishap received plenty of news coverage.

Unfortunately, this was the second recent incident about emergencies at the Cooper nuclear plant. On July 24, Nebraska Public Power District workers were working on a computer system that controls sirens in Nemaha County when a false alarm was broadcast.

There have been two other similar incidents at Region IV nuclear plants in recent memory:

Last summer, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. workers were upgrading their siren system around Diablo Canyon when they inadvertently activated one at 3:30 in the afternoon. It sounded continuously for 14 minutes before workers were able to deactivate it remotely. It took 10 minutes before county officials sent out an advisory noting the error. Some people vented their anger about all the confusion on the county’s Facebook page, and several local TV stations and the Associated Press carried reports about the incident.

sirenNot a week later, something similar happened in Washington State. During a training class at the state Emergency Operations Center, a staffer inadvertently faxed a partially filled out form for an Alert (the second lowest level of nuclear emergency) at Columbia Generating Station. The fax went to nine different emergency management agencies, including one in Canada. A second fax was quickly sent out correcting the error.

The NRC is primarily concerned with the reliability of sirens. The NRC tracks the performance of licensee alert and notification systems by measuring the number of successful siren tests conducted quarterly at each plant. These types of incidents are embarrassing to all involved and in each instance corrective actions have been taken to minimize the chance of future mishaps.

But the bottom line is that residents in the communities around nuclear power plants need to heed the warning, and trust the emergency alert systems. A few false alarms should not change their response. If you hear a siren, or get a text message on your phone announcing an emergency, please heed the warning.

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