Nuke Leak Forces Shutdown

Friday, June 15, 2012 @ 12:06 PM gHale

An additional inspector is enroute to Palisades nuclear power plant in Covert, MI, as Entergy employees work to fix a leak that forced a plant shutdown Tuesday, federal officials said.

The inspector will observe how the plant responds to the leak and conduct an investigation to see if there are any deficiencies in the plant’s or staff’s performance, said Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) spokeswoman Viktoria Mitlyng.

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The plant voluntarily shut down just before 7 p.m. Tuesday because of a leak in the plant’s injection/refueling water tank. The tank contained 300,000 gallons of borated water, which cools the reactor when workers are replacing the plant’s nuclear fuel or to cool the core in the event of an emergency.

The NRC became aware of the leak in April when the plant shut down for refueling. Entergy and the NRC monitored the leak. The plant set a limit if more than 31 gallons leaked in a day, the plant would shut down, Mitlyng said. The plant’s license specifies no more than 34.8 gallons leak a day.

The plant is currently under increased oversight because of problems at the plant in 2011. The NRC downgraded it to be one of the four worst performing nuclear plants in the United States.

The public was never at risk because of the leak because there was enough water in the tank in the case on emergency, Mytlyng said. The calculations used as benchmarks to shut down are “very conservative,” she said.

Entergy spokesman Mark Savage declined to say when the plant may reopen. Repair work will consist of draining the tank, locating the leak, repairing the leak, refilling the tank and returning the plant to service.

Mitlyng said it will take more than one or two days to perform all of the required work.

Nuclear plants are able to operate when some parts are leaking. “There is always some kind of leakage going on,” Mitlyng said. “As long as it’s very small and doesn’t get bigger.”

But if it was any leaking of radioactive water used to generate energy, the plant would shut down immediately, Mitlyng said.

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