Fumes Fell 7 Workers at NJ Nuke

Tuesday, April 25, 2017 @ 05:04 PM gHale

Ariel view of the Salem 2 nuclear plant in New Jersery were seven workers became ill after being overcome by fumes in the containment building.

Seven workers ended up sickened by fumes inside a nuclear reactor containment building Thursday, officials said.

The incident took place around 9 p.m. Thursday at the Salem 2 plant, according to Joe Delmar, a spokesman for PSEG Nuclear, the owner and operator of the facility.

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It prompted the company to declare an “unusual event,” the lowest of four emergency classifications at a nuclear plant. That declaration ended up lifted by plant officials at 12:58 p.m. Friday.

Salem 2 is one of three nuclear reactors operated by PSEG at its Artificial Island generating complex in Lower Alloways Creek Township, NJ. The unit had been taken out of service on April 14 for scheduled refueling and maintenance.

Workers were inside the containment building at Salem 2, the dome-shaped structure where the nuclear reactor is located, Delmar said.

Fumes from hydrazine, a colorless liquid with an ammonia-like smell used to clean and preserve equipment built up inside the containment building. The hydrazine easily evaporates when exposed to the air.

After some of the workers began feeling the effects of the hydrazine, the containment building evacuated, Delmar said.

Air samples were taken, he said, and it was “determined that hydrazine was present inside containment at levels which posed a safety risk to plant personnel.”

While the levels of hydrazine in the area were below Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) exposure limits at all times, more conservative limits established by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) were followed to protect plant personnel, Delmar said.

Short term exposure to hydrazine can possibly lead to irritated eyes, nose and throats as well as dizziness, headaches or nausea, Delmar said.

All seven of the workers who suffered symptoms from the hydrazine exposure ended up treated on scene by members of the PSEG Nuclear fire department who are also trained EMTs.

In all, 17 workers were inside the containment building at the time of the incident.

They were all outside contractors hired specifically to come to the Island to perform work related to the outage, Delmar said. They all returned to work after being treated.

Once they ventilated the area, it was determined that conditions inside the containment building were safe and work activities resumed inside, Delmar said.

There was no threat to the health and safety of the public outside the plant, Delmar said.

While outage work stopped inside the containment building, work in other areas continued during the incident.

Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) officials were also notified of the incident.

“Our resident inspectors assigned to Salem closely monitored the event and the response of plant personnel, including the fire brigade,” said Neil Sheehan, spokesman for the NRC. “They did not identify any immediate safety concerns.”

An “unusual event” has the potential to impact plant safety, but there is no release of radiation and no threat to public health and safety of those outside the plant, Delmar said.

The declaration also established a level of readiness among plant employees if further action needs to be taken.

Salem 2 is one of three reactors operated by PSEG Nuclear at Artificial Island site. The other two reactors there — Salem 1 and Hope Creek — remain operating at full power.

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