Radiation Alert: Workers Not Prepared

Monday, July 11, 2011 @ 02:07 PM gHale


A radiation-exposure incident nearly three months ago at a power plant near Cleveland was the result of the operator not properly assessing the hazard and preparing workers, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) said.

The determination from a month-long NRC special inspection at the Perry Nuclear Power Plant in Painesville, Ohio, came out six weeks after the investigation wrapped up. Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp., which also operates the Beaver Valley Nuclear Power Station in Shippingport, operates the plant.

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FirstEnergy has 30 days to challenge the findings or request a hearing on the matter before the NRC will issue a final report that sets its enforcement action against the Perry plant.

Since everyone involved cooperated fully in the investigation, no fines will be issued, said Viktoria Mitlyng, an NRC spokeswoman. But if the ruling stands, the Perry plant probably will be under increased regulators’ oversight, she said.

In the April 21 incident, five workers suffered exposure to higher levels of radiation than normal when a contractor incorrectly installed cables used to pull monitoring equipment from the reactor during a refueling, and the workers were not shielded as well as they should have been, the NRC reported.

The workers left the containment room as soon as they received high readings on their radiation-detecting badges and no one suffered injuries from the exposure, said FirstEnergy spokesman Todd Schneider. In addition, no radiation made it outside the room.

Neither the NRC nor Schneider would identify the contractor involved “for privacy reasons,” but the spokesman said the company often provides workers for refueling work, including the shutdowns at Beaver Valley’s two units.

Schneider said the firm has completed its work, but FirstEnergy has not made a decision on whether it will use the contractor again. There will be more oversight whoever is performing the work in the future, he said.

In its investigation report, the NRC defined the incident as having a low to moderate safety risk, but noted officials are taking the incident seriously because it could be a precursor to a worse incident if they do not take corrective action.

The report said FirstEnergy did not take into account the potentially high radiation exposure of removing a neutron monitor that had been stuck in the reactor core for 10 months, and did not provide sufficient instructions to workers to ensure they correctly conducted the task.

Schneider said the report still is under review by company officials and the company has not decided whether to dispute the findings.

Schneider noted FirstEnergy already has made adjustments in the wake of the April incident. He said shielding equipment has improved and procedures updated to be safer.



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