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A Fire at South Texas Project – How the NRC Responded

Victor Dricks
Senior Public Affairs Officer
Region IV
 
The Region IV Incident Response Center during an emergency exercise last month.

The Region IV Incident Response Center during an emergency exercise last month.

At 4:40 p.m. Central Time Tuesday, officials at the South Texas Project nuclear power plant near Bay City, Texas, notified the NRC’s Operations Center that a fire had broken out in the main transformer of Unit 2, causing an automatic shutdown. Unit 1 was unaffected and continued to operate at full power.

As designed, the plant’s emergency diesel generators energized to power safety-related equipment. All four auxiliary feedwater pumps started as required to supply power to the plant’s steam generators for cooling. However, power to non-safety related electrical buses was lost, cutting off power to the plant’s reactor coolant pumps. As part of the plant’s design, natural draft circulation continued to cool the plant’s shutdown reactor to remove decay heat.

The plant declared an Unusual Event – the lowest of four categories of nuclear emergency — due to the transformer fire at 4:55 p.m. The plant’s on-site fire brigade responded and quickly extinguished the blaze, so no off-site assistance was required.

The NRC’s resident inspector, who was on-site at the time, responded to the event by going to the plant’s control room to observe the licensee’s response to the event. The NRC’s Region IV Office in Arlington, Texas, activated its Incident Response Center to monitor the event.

There were no personnel injuries and no radiological releases were reported. The Unusual event was terminated at 7:47 p.m., although the NRC’s resident inspector remained onsite until about midnight.

As part of its ongoing oversight, the NRC will monitor the licensee’s follow-up actions. These include identification of the cause of the transformer fire; a review of the behavior of the plant’s electrical protection systems; and various repair activities.

“Overall, from what we now know, plant operators responded well to the event,” said Acting Deputy Regional Administrator Steve Reynolds. “The NRC will conduct an independent and comprehensive assessment of this incident as part of its oversight process.”

3 responses to “A Fire at South Texas Project – How the NRC Responded

  1. praengineer January 17, 2013 at 1:16 pm

    This is what gives folks in the industry pause: “All four auxiliary feedwater pumps started as required to supply power to the plant’s steam generators for cooling.” As most know, the auxiliary feedwater pumps send water to the steam generators. Cooling is a result of boiling off the water provided from auxiliary feedwater. At many plants, auxiliary feedwater pumps are connected to small steam turbines so only rely on DC power for control. The summary in this blog ought to have mentioned whether or not all four were electric motor driven pumps. Only electric motor driven auxiliary feedwater pumps depend on AC power in the plant.

    • Hiddencamper January 21, 2013 at 7:41 pm

      There are also a handful of plants (Byron, Braidwood, Grand Gulf) who have diesel engine driven aux feed pumps.

      Also, regardless of whether or not they were motor driven aux feed pumps, they would have been on the safeguards bus if AC power was lost. Either way, I’m a big fan of diversity in aux-feed systems, and wish more plants had a combination of all three engine, steam, and motor driven aux feed.

  2. James Greenidge January 10, 2013 at 8:20 pm

    Interesting memo! Of course, in order to give calm perspective for the public as to the level of the incident it’d really help immensely for the NRC to equate it with other industrial and energy/chemical refinery incident comparisons. Unfortunately, largely due political factors, such facilities aren’t as required to issue such reports, despite a far more lethal and damaging track record.

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY

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