The American nuclear industry, primed to begin new construction projects for the first time in 30 years, is about as eager for an operating problem at an old reactor as the oil industry was for a well blowout on the eve of opening the Atlantic coast to oil drilling.
Let’s file this under, “worst-case scenarios waiting to happen” — a file that has grown uncomfortably large in recent weeks (see BP calls blowout disaster ‘inconceivable,’ ‘unprecedented,’ and unforeseeable).
New York Times reporter Matt Wald has the story, “An Old Nuclear Problem Creeps Back“:
In 2002, the plant, Davis-Besse, in Oak Harbor, Ohio, developed leaks in parts on the vessel head, allowing cooling water from inside the vessel, at 2,200 pounds per square inch of pressure, to leak out.
The cooling water contains boric acid, which is used to control the speed of the nuclear reaction, and the acid ate away a chunk of the steel the size of a football, leaving nothing but a thin stainless-steel liner to maintain the reactor’s integrity.
Nuclear experts characterized it as a startling near-miss. Plants around the country had experienced leaks in the vessel head, but none nearly this serious.
The plant was shut for 14 months. First Energy Nuclear Operating Company, which owns it, eventually brought in a replacement head of similar design from a reactor in Midland, Mich., that had been abandoned during construction.
The company assumed it had solved the problem. But recently the new vessel head showed the same leakage pattern. Once again, the parts prone to leaking are nozzles through which the control rods for the reactor pass. When the rods are inserted, they choke off the flow of neutrons that sustains the reaction; when they are withdrawn, the reactor starts up. But the nozzles are prone to a problem called “stress corrosion cracking,” leading to the leaks.
It is not clear why Davis-Besse’s problem is more serious than other plants have had, although it surfaced in 2002 that First Energy had won approval to delay inspections that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission wanted. (When the problem became clear, those approvals set off a crisis of confidence for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.)
No worries. Nothing to see here.
Still, I suppose it is worth pointing out that unlike the case of the BP oil disaster, American taxpayers are on the hook if a nuke goes really bad (see “How much of a subsidy is the Price-Anderson Nuclear Industry Indemnity Act?“)
- An introduction to nuclear power
- Exclusive analysis, Part 1: The staggering cost of new nuclear power
- Warning to taxpayers, investors “” Part 2: Nukes may become troubled assets, ruin credit ratings
- The Self-Limiting Future of Nuclear Power
- Nuclear Pork “” Enough is Enough
- GOP wants 100 new nukes by 2030 while “Areva has acknowledged that the cost of a new reactor today would be as much as 6 billion euros, or $8 billion, double the price offered to the Finns.”
- Nuclear Bombshell: $26 Billion cost “” $10,800 per kilowatt! “” killed Ontario nuclear bid