November 11, 2013 22:07
A reactor at one of the nation’s largest nuclear power plants has been taken offline due to a radioactive leak within a containment building.
“Out of an abundance of caution,” service was temporarily removed from Unit 1 at the Oconee Nuclear Station in western South Carolina early Monday, according to ONS spokeswoman B.J. Gatten.
A robot was used to confirm the leak over the weekend after it was first suspected Friday night inside Unit 1’s containment facility, Gatten said.
Less than one tenth of a gallon of radioactive material is leaking per minute, though it is not yet known how long the leak has existed, she said, according to WYFF.
The leak remains solely inside the containment building, a steel-lined, airtight area with concrete walls several feet thick. No one works inside the containment building, Gatten said.
The leak is subject to ongoing repairs and analysis, though there is no estimate for when it will go back online.
Gatten claims the leak will not put any employees or the public in danger, nor will it affect service.
The leak has been reported to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, she said. A Commission report said Unit 1 was running at full power Friday.
Unit 2 at ONS was offline already for routine refueling, leaving one reactor – Unit 3 – online Monday.
ONS is run by Duke Energy, and began operation in 1973 with an initial expiration date in 2013, per 40-year regulatory standards. However, its license was extended for an additional 20 years – only the second reactor to earn such a renewal – and is now scheduled to expire in 2033.
The power plant is located on Lake Keowee near Seneca, South Carolina. Its energy output is over 2,500 megawatts – enough electricity to power 1.9 million homes, according to Duke Energy.
The story doesn’t end there:
Lake Keowee dam failure could lead to multiple meltdown, NRC has known of vulnerability since 1980’s.
The Oconee nuclear plant is located about 12 miles downstream of the Jocassee Dam (see figure above). Oconee has three pressurized water reactors, each similar to the reactor that melted down at Three Mile Island in 1979. Oconee is the only nuclear power plant in the United States that does not rely on emergency diesel generators to supply electricity to reactor core cooling equipment if the normal source of electricity becomes unavailable. Instead, Oconee gets backup power from the nearby Keowee hydroelectric dam. Backup power from Keowee is supplied to the Standby Shutdown Facility (SSF) housing the equipment needed to cool the reactor cores when the normal power source is lost.
Duke Energy, the plant’s owner, has known since at least 1992 that the 5-foot tall flood wall protecting the SSF is not high enough to prevent equipment inside the SSF from damage if the Jocassee Dam fails. The NRC has known about this situation since at least 1996.
If the Jocassee Dam failed, the three operating reactors could melt within about 10 hours and the containments could fail within 60 hours. In that case, more radiation could be released than escaped following the three reactor meltdowns at Fukushima.
source: Union of Concerned Scientists
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