KS Nuke Extension Averts Shutdown

Tuesday, October 14, 2014 @ 02:10 PM gHale

Wolf Creek Nuclear Operating Corp. received an extra eight hours to fix a backup generator that damaged in a fire early last week, averting a shutdown of the nuclear power plant near Burlington, KS, federal officials said.

“We’re totally good,” plant spokesman Terry Young said Thursday night, just after the damaged generator gained certification as repaired. “We’re running full-steam ahead.”

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The actual repairs to the damaged generator wrapped up Wednesday afternoon, but the unit had to undergo testing and then run for 24 hours without incident before it could gain certification as being back in service. The plant continued in full-power operating mode while workers conducted the repairs and no radiation released in the incident, officials said.

The deadline extension from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) was good news for customers of the three utility companies that own the plant. Shutdowns cost hundreds of thousands of dollars a day as the power companies have to burn more fuel at their coal and gas plants or buy power from other systems, or both. Those costs eventually show up in consumers’ bills.

Without the eight-hour grace period, Wolf Creek operators would have missed a deadline to repair the damaged generator or shut the plant down, Young said. Federal regulations require repairs to wrap up within 72 hours, which would have passed at 1:30 p.m. Thursday.

The damaged diesel generator is one of two backup units designed to provide power to run the plant if it loses its regular supply of on- and off-site power.

It suffered damage Monday afternoon when a part of the generator called an “excitation power transformer” burst into flames. That part provides energy to the internal wiring of the generator unit so it can produce electricity.

Westar Energy and Kansas City Power & Light each own 47 percent of the plant and are entitled to that much of its power output. Kansas Electric Power Cooperative owns the remaining 6 percent and gets that much of the power.

It’s the second time in two weeks that Wolf Creek has gotten a time extension on repairs to avert a shutdown. Last week, the NRC granted the operating company a delay on fixing a malfunctioning sensor unit underneath the reactor core that provides warning if there’s a coolant leak.

The plant has to shut down to fix that problem because the radiation level under the reactor is too high for people to work there when it’s running, even if they’re in protective suits.

NRC officials agreed with Wolf Creek the plant could continue to run because a leak would also be picked up on other sensors that monitor temperature, humidity and radiation in the reactor building.

The bad sensor unit will end up replaced when the plant goes into a scheduled refueling shutdown at the end of February.

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