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by Michael Steinberg
Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014 at 9:48 PM
What US nuclear plants have been shutting down and why?
And did you know that nuke plants may release the most radiation when they are purposely shut down?
Nuclear Shutdown News chronicles the continuous decline of the US commercial nuclear industry. These nuclear plants were designed to operate 40 years. As more and more of them approach or surpass the 40 year mark, more and more problems arise in them that threaten our health and safety. They must be permanently shut down now.
Here’s out report for November 2014:
On September 6 the South Jersey Times reported that the Hope Creek nuclear reactor had shut down “after it was discovered a valve was not opening as deigned. The valve’s chief function is to protect the reactor from overpressure in the event of a trip—a sudden shutdown. It would release steam to relieve pressure within the reactor.”
The newspaper also reported that the plant owner, Pennsylvania Power & Light, had originally planned to shut down the reactor to fix the valve next spring, but moved up the repair schedule after the reactor shut itself down following the September valve failure.
Another report, “Mystery noise shuts down Hope Creek,” appeared in the September 8 Delaware News Journal. That report stated that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) “noted in July that 5 of 14 main steam safety relief valves at Hope Creek had failed to open within a specified pressure range.” The problem was attributed to corrosion.
Hope Creek started up in 1986.
Pennsylvania’s Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader reported on September 15 about an unusually high number of “scrams’—unplanned shutdowns, and complications—at the Susquehanna 2 nuke plant. The shutdowns eventually got the attention of the NRC, which investigated and declared that the root cause of the scrams was “less than adequate decision making.” Susquehanna began operating in 1984.
On October the News Advocate of Virginia reported that the Surry 2 reactor in VA had “tripped offline.” The newspaper explained that the shutdown was caused by “an apparently erroneous sensor signal detected by the unit’s reactor protection system.” Surry 2 is 41 years old.
And on October 28th Nuclear Power News reported that the Perry nuclear reactor in Ohio had restarted after a weeklong shutdown. The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported, “Engineers said an electrical circuit card in a power inverter that converts Direct Current to Alternating Current triggered the shutdown, as the feeder pump that keeps the fuel [nuclear]fuel rods submerged operate with AC current..
Perry started up in 1987.
So far we’ve looked at unplanned shutdowns of commercial nuclear reactors—the trips and scrams.
But there are also planned shutdowns. These usually happen once every 18 months, when reactors need to have some of the nuclear fuel removed—typically one-third of it—and have it replaced with new fuel.
This is called refueling, and these shutdowns are called outages.
With the reactors totally shut down, you would think this would be one of the safer times, in terms of exposure to radioactivity emitted by the nuclear plants.
But we’ve recently learned that in fact refueling can be times when the highest releases of radioactivity take place.
On September 3, Nuclear News (nuclearhotseat.com) ran a story entitled “Nuclear Industry hides from public huge radiation spikes at power plant reactors.”
The story consisted of an interview with Dr. Ian Fairlie, a British radiation biologist.
Nuclear News reported, “During refueling, nuclear reactors are depressurized and their valves opened up, resulting a release of gas containing some radioactive elements.
This means that the bulk of a reactor’s annual radioactive releases can be emitted “over a short period of time, often in just one afternoon, which means workers and those living downwind are sustaining high amounts of radioactive exposure.”
This can be up to 75% of the annual exposure to radiation emitted from a nuclear reactor.
According to Dr. Fairlie, “Instead of having even, little bits of emission through 365 days, you have one long, massive spike which happens over a day and a half period. That’s important because it results in doses which are at least 20% higher, and maybe as much as 100% higher.”
On November 10, I checked the NRC website to see how many nuclear reactors were totally shut down. This amounted to 15, equaling 15% of the nuclear industrd’s 99 reactors. Of these 15, I determined through media reports that at least 8 were shut fown for refueling.
These were: Millstone 3 in CT; Peach Bottom2 in PA; Salem in NJ; Farley 2 in AL; McGuire in NC; Dresden 3 in IL; Prairie Island in MN; and Callaway in MS.
On October 11 I was in my hometown of Niantic in southeastern Connecticut, close to Millstone 3. That reactor had just closed down for refueling.
Around midnight I went our for a walk to take in the night air.
The Millstone nuke came in view. But it was obscured by massive billowing clouds emanating from Millstone 3, and under cover of the night.
The plant’s owner, Dominion Resources of Virginia, says what I saw was “clean steam.” But given Dr. Fairlie’s findings, it seems likely that what I witnessed also included large mounts of Millstone radioactive releases.
Yes, the nuclear industry is still up to its same old dirty tricks.
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