Walkie Talkie Shuts Nuke Plant Safety System

Wednesday, March 9, 2011 @ 04:03 PM gHale

The Davis-Besse nuclear power plant near Toledo, OH, lost the entire emergency shutdown system all because of a walkie talkie.

The scenario goes like this: A technician at the power plant used his walkie talkie in a room containing a back-up or auxiliary control panel for a system designed to automatically pump water into the reactor in the event of a catastrophic accident.

The radio wave disrupted the signal from the control panel to special pumps and emergency valves that even on stand-by are electrically alive for an instantaneous reaction.

In two bursts of conversation lasting 8 seconds and 19 seconds during a two-minute period, the technician rendered the plant’s entire emergency shutdown system inoperable, the company told federal regulators.

The company posted a sign on the door to the room warning all employees not to key their radios near the sensitive control panel, said Todd Schneider, company spokesman.

The incident should have never happened, said David Lochbaum, nuclear safety engineer with the Union of Concerned Scientists. He said such incidents occurred a number of times in the early 1980s, so much that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued a warning bulletin in December 1983.

“This hasn’t happened in decades,” Lochbaum said. “Davis-Besse was warned but has failed to heed the warning.”

The NRC wants to talk to that worker, said Victoria Mitlyng, spokeswoman for the NRC’s regional office in Chicago. “We will definitely be looking into this.”