Great Lakes nuclear plants worry U.S. regulators
H. Josef Hebert / Associated Press
plant makes list
Here is a list of nuclear power
reactors with the greatest vulnerability to cracking
of their control rod nozzles:
Arkansas Nuclear Unit 1, Russellville, Ark.
Crystal River Unit 3, Crystal River, Fla.
Davis Besse, Oak Harbor, Ohio. D.C. Cook Unit 2, Benton Harbor, Mich.
H.B. Robinson Unit 2, Florence, S.C.
Millstone Unit 2, New London, Conn.
North Anna Units 1 and 2, Richmond, Va.
Oconee Units 1, 2 and 3, Greenville, S.C.
Surry Units 1 and 2, Newport News, Va.
Three Mile Island, Harrisburg, Pa.
Source: Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
WASHINGTON -- A nuclear reactor
in Ohio is found to have a large hole nobody thought possible,
burned almost through its 6-inch protective steel cover.
Cracks of a type never seen before are discovered at a reactor
in South Carolina, triggering widespread inspections.
Both events caught industry leaders and
government regulators by surprise, and they are fueling
new questions about aging nuclear power plants and plant
The cracks found last year at the Oconee
plant in South Carolina and the hole discovered in March
in the steel reactor lid at the Davis Besse plant in Ohio
were in areas thought largely impervious to such problems.
"It was material degradation that wasn't
expected," acknowledges Alex Marion of the Nuclear Energy
Institute, the industry's trade group.
The 25-year-old Davis Besse reactor on
the shore of Lake Erie is one of four nuclear plants owned
by FirstEnergy Corp. It has been shut down since February,
waiting for the hole in the reactor dome to be patched.
An inspection of most of the 68 other
plants with similar designs and conditions reported no corrosion.
But the regulators ordered special inspections at 14 reactors
thought to be vulnerable.
Some senior officials at the Nuclear Regulatory
Commission are viewing the Davis Besse and Oconee discoveries
as the most significant safety issue facing the nuclear
industry since the Three Mile Island accident 23 years ago.
The steel reactor vessel, which encloses
the reactor's core, has always been viewed as "a sacred
component" that will not be breached, said Brian Sheron,
the commission's assistant director for licensing and technology
assessment. "This really challenges that assumption."
The problems at both reactors were discovered
before they posed an immediate safety risk. A break through
the reactor cover would have caused thousands of gallons
of radioactive water to spew into the containment building,
raising the risks of the core overheating and a potential
meltdown and possible release of radiation into the environment.
Only a thin noncorrosive stainless steel
membrane kept the hole at the Ohio reactor from bursting
open. The cracks at the Oconee plant, owned by Duke Power,
were less urgent. But had the crack expanded it could have
caused the nozzle to separate, also causing a loss of cooling
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