MA Nuke Operating Again

Wednesday, September 21, 2016 @ 02:09 PM gHale

Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station was back to full power Monday after shutting down 13 days earlier because of a water leak into the reactor’s containment building.

But that was not the end of the problems as the leak ended up followed by a hydrogen release and a malfunction with the main turbine’s turning gear during an attempted restart.

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“Control room operators reconnected Pilgrim to the electrical grid on Saturday and (Monday) at 2:39 a.m. the unit reached 100 percent power,” said Patrick O’Brien, spokesman for the plant owner-operator Entergy Corp.

On Sept. 6, operators powered down the Plymouth, MA-based reactor when a faulty feedwater regulating valve allowed too much water to enter the containment building.

Four days later, while the plant was still shut down, there was a leak into the turbine room of 2,680 cubic feet of highly flammable hydrogen gas, used to cool the generator. The gas then went into the atmosphere, forcing plant operators to file reports with state and federal regulators.

The large size of the turbine room allowed the gas to dissipate before it could reach a harmful level, said Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) spokesman Neil Sheehan. It would have been even more diluted as it entered the atmosphere beyond the plant, he said.

Entergy failed to notify Plymouth Fire Chief Edward Bradley about the incident, although it submitted a written report to the commission saying it had done so right after the release. Bradley found out about the hydrogen release four days later.

Although Entergy then filed an amended report with the NRC saying the company notified the fire chief belatedly, Bradley said notification never took place. He said he had to call the company to get the information.

Sheehan said local communication remained important. “We’ll have to follow up on the notification to the fire department,” Sheehan said. “We have stressed to Entergy the need to maintain a good flow of communications with the community, including off-site responders.”

Entergy filed a report on the hydrogen release with the Department of Environmental Protection, as required, and has hired a professional to submit a final report within 60 days on “what happened, how it happened and why it happened,” according to department spokesman Edmund Coletta.

The 44-year-old plant’s problems did not end there. The reactor was slowly powering up Sept. 13 and reached 9 percent of its full capacity when yet another malfunction forced operators to shut the reactor back down.

A turning gear in the main turbine was not functioning properly.

Pilgrim also was shut down for four days last month because of a malfunctioning steam isolation valve designed to prevent radioactivity from leaking into the environment during a nuclear accident. Problems in that same valve system had caused a shutdown in August 2015.

Pilgrim, ranked by the NRC as one of the three worst performers in the country’s fleet of 100 reactors, is slated to close on May 31, 2019. To keep it online until then, Entergy will have to invest another $70 million this spring to refuel the reactor.

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