Fires at two U.S. nuclear plants; emergency declarations by NRC

Oconee Nuclear Plant in North Carolina — March 7, 2016
Watts Bar Nuclear Plant in Tennessee — March 9, 2016

From ENE News

ALERT: Emergency at US nuclear plant after “massive” fire and multiple explosions — “All of a sudden we heard this loud boom and the whole ground started shaking” — “Intense Flames… Heavy Black Smoke… Chaos” — 100s of fire personnel called in — “We ask that the public stay away from the area” (VIDEOS)

3-8-16

U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Mar 7, 2016 (emphasis added): [Oconee Nuclear Station, SC] EMERGENCY DECLARATION DUE TO FIRE/EXPLOSION IN THE MAIN TRANSFORMER… At 1520 EST, the licensee declared a Notification of Unusual Event… personnel were applying additional foam to prevent a re-flash… Offsite assistance was requested with three local fire departments… At 1658 EST, the licensee declared an Alert [when] the fire damaged an overhead power line that supplies emergency power to all three units at Oconee.

WHNS transcript, Mar 7, 2016: People fishing on the lake… reported hearing a loud boom and seeing black smoke, and then steam… Witnesses say there were two explosions… This afternoon [was] chaos… Fire crews [were] all on scene at the Oconee nuclear plant after a massive electrical fire… Fire Official: “It’s also in very close proximity to the buildings… I know they worked on… preventing the transformer from impinging on any of the other structures”… People in the area were very concerned when they saw heavy black smokeWitness: “All of a sudden we heard this loud boom and the whole ground started shaking.”… It’s a scary situation… [An official] said it was a very rare problem.

Loudspeaker at Oconee Nuclear Station: “Attention all site personnel… This is an emergency message… An unusual event has been declared for Unit 1… TSC – OSC [Technical Support Center – Onsite Operational Support Center] activation is necessary and the TSC – OSC has not yet been activated. Activate the TSC – OSC — I repeat, activate the TSC – OSC.”

WYFF, Mar 7, 2016: Scott Batson, site vice president [said] the intense flames and smoke came from oil burning… Batson said because a cable burned in the fire fell and caused other equipment to be affected, which led to the “unusual event” to be upgraded to an alert.

FOX Carolina, Mar 7, 2016: Hundreds of fire personnel sprang into action after a fire started at the Oconee Nuclear Plant.

WSPA transcript, Mar 7, 2016: Nearby Resident:I freaked out – you see a fire, smoke at a a power plant”… Fire Chief: “When you’re responding to a call, and you can see it when you leave the station like that, it really kind of gets your adrenaline going.”

Oconee County Emergency Management, Mar 7, 2016: “We ask that the public stay away from the area as emergency personnel and Duke Energy staff work.”

Greenville News, Mar 6, 2016: The alert was necessary because the problem could have affected operations of the plant itself… The transformer is 25 to 30 feet from the turbine building that serves Unit 1 and about 100 yards from the reactor building

WLOS, Mar 6, 2016: A transformer burst into flames at an Upstate nuclear power station…. Officials did ask the public to stay away from the area… The fire chief also said crews are continuing to work with on-site personnel to ensure… there is no further extension.

From last month: ALERT: Fire/explosion at North Carolina nuclear plant (VIDEO)

Watch broadcasts: WHNS | WSPA | Loudspeaker Announcement

EMERGENCY: Fire breaks out at another US nuclear plant — Blaze ignites in turbine building — “It took so long to put out” — Alert issued to government officials (VIDEO)

March 10, 2016

U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Mar 9, 2016 (emphasis added): WATTS BAR [Tennessee]… Emergency Class: UNUSUAL EVENT… EMERGENCY DECLARED… UNUSUAL EVENT DECLARED DUE TO A FIRE GREATER THAN 15 MINUTES… Watts Bar Unit 2 declared an Unusual Event at 0342 EST based on a fire greater than 15 minutes in the turbine building – 2B Hotwell pump motor… Notified DHS… DOE, FEMA… and Nuclear SSA…

WBIR, Mar 9, 2016: An electrical fire overnight at TVA’s Watts Bar Nuclear Plant in southeast Tennessee triggered an alert… It took about 29 minutes from the time the fire was discovered until it was extinguished by the Watts Bar Fire Brigade. The pump was in a part of the plant that is hard to access, and that’s why it took so long to put out. Because the fire burned longer than 15 minutes, a Notice of Unusual Event (NUE) was declared. The NUE triggered an alert to TEMA and other agencies… Unit 2 is fueled but is non-operational. The hot well is where the steam from power generation ends up after being condensed back into water.

WTVC, Mar 9, 2016: TVA spokesman Scott Brooks says the fire broke out at 3:45 a.m. in one of the pump motors, one that received an operating license back in October.

Power Engineering, Mar 9, 2016: Watts Bar 2 Shut Down After Turbine Building Fire — Workers with the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) declared an Unusual Event at Watts Bar Unit 2 in Tennessee due to a fire inside the turbine building… The cause is under investigation.

Chattanooga Times Free Press, Mar 10, 2016: Fire at Watts Bar… triggers emergency event

Chattanooga Times Free Press, Mar 9, 2016: Fire in Watts Bar pump motor on Thursday declared an emergency… fire ignited early Wednesday in one of the pump motors for TVA’s newest reactors, forcing the federal utility to declare the lowest of emergency classifications at the plant even before it has produced any power… The Watts Bar Unit 2 reactor will be the first new nuclear reactor added to America’s nuclear grid since the other Watts Bar unit started up in 1996. TVA has spent more than $5 billion to build the unit through a series of starts and stops in construction since the project began in 1973.

WRCB, Mar 9, 2016: Fire in Watts Bar pump motor today brings emergency declaration

WJHL, Mar 9, 2016: TVA: Watts Bar Dam generating unit caught on fire… Tennessee Valley Authority was alerted of an “usual event” [and] was able to extinguish the fire after the alert.

Watch WBIR’s broadcast here

 

http://enenews.com/alert-emergency-nuclear-plant-after-massive-fire-multiple-explosions-all-sudden-heard-loud-boom-ground-started-shaking-videos

http://enenews.com/fire-breaks-another-nuclear-plant-emergency-event-declared-long-put-alert-issued-government-officials-video

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Whistleblower: Nuclear disaster in America Is more likely than the public understands

A 2012 article which is particularly timely given the deteriorating conditions at the Boone Dam in the Tennessee Valley Authority.
http://enenews.com/top-official-sinkhole-sunk-further-water-coming-dam-upstream-multiple-nuclear-plants-agencys-top-priority-section-caved-base-govt-refuses-disclose-inundation-maps-reporter-security-concerns/comment-page-1#comments

From AlterNet
By William Boardman / AlterNet
November 28, 2012

Key federal official warns that the public has been kept in the dark about safety risks.

This article was published in partnership with GlobalPossibilities.org.

The likelihood was very low that an earthquake followed by a tsunami would destroy all four nuclear reactors at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, but in March 2011, that’s what happened, and the accident has yet to be contained.

Similarly, the likelihood may be low that an upstream dam will fail, unleashing a flood that will turn any of 34 vulnerable nuclear plants into an American Fukushima.  But knowing that unlikely events sometimes happen nevertheless, the nuclear industry continues to answer the question of how much safety is enough by seeking to suppress or minimize what the public knows about the danger.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has known at least since 1996 that flooding danger from upstream dam failure was a more serious threat than the agency would publicly admit. The NRC failed from 1996 until 2011 to assess the threat even internally.  In July 2011, the NRC staff completed a report finding “that external flooding due to upstream dam failure poses a larger than expected risk to plants and public safety” [emphasis added] but the NRC did not make the 41-page report public.

Instead, the agency made much of another report, issued July 12, 2011 – “Recommendations for Enhancing Reactor Safety in the 21st Century,” sub-titled “The Near-Term Task Force Review of Insights from the Fukushima Dai-Ichi Accident.”  Hardly four months since the continuing accident began in Japan, the premature report had little to say about reactor flooding as a result of upstream dam failure, although an NRC news release in March 2012 would try to suggest otherwise.

Censored Report May Be Crime by NRC  

That 2012 news release accompanied a highly redacted version of the July 2011 report that had recommended a more formal investigation of the unexpectedly higher risks of upstream dam failure to nuclear plants and the public.  In its release, the NRC said it had “started a formal evaluation of potential generic safety implications for dam failures upstream” including “the effects of upstream dam failure on independent spent fuel storage installations.”

Six months later, in September 2012, The NRC’s effort at bland public relations went controversial, when the report’s lead author made a criminal complaint to the NRC’s Inspector General, alleging “Concealment of Significant Nuclear Safety Information by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.”  In a letter dated September 14 and made public the same day, Richard Perkins, an engineer in the NRC’s Division of Risk Analysis, wrote Inspector General Hubert Bell, describing it as “a violation of law” that the Commission:

has intentionally mischaracterized relevant and noteworthy safety information as sensitive, security information in an effort to conceal the information from the public. This action occurred in anticipation of, in preparation for, and as part of the NRC’s response to a Freedom of Information Act request for information concerning the generic issue investigation on Flooding of U.S. Nuclear Power Plants Following Upstream Dam Failure….   

Portions of the publically released version of this report are redacted citing security sensitivities, however, the redacted information is of a general descriptive nature or is strictly relevant to the safety of U.S. nuclear power plants, plant personnel, and members of the public. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff has engaged in an effort to mischaracterize the information as security sensitive in order to justify withholding it from public release using certain exemptions specified in the Freedom of Information Act. …

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff may be motivated to prevent the disclosure of this safety information to the public because it will embarrass the agency. The redacted information includes discussion of, and excerpts from, NRC official agency records that show the NRC has been in possession of relevant, notable, and derogatory safety information for an extended period but failed to properly act on it.

 Concurrently, the NRC concealed the information from the public.

The Inspector General has not yet acted on the complaint.

Most Media Ignore Nuclear Safety Risks

Huffington Post picked up the story immediately as did the Union of Concerned Scientists and a number of online news sites.  The mainstream media showed little or no interest in a story about yet another example of the NRC lying to the public about the safety of nuclear power plants.

An NRC spokesman suggested to HuffPo that the report’s redactions were at least partly at the behest of Homeland Security. A second NRC risk engineer, who requested anonymity, said that Homeland Security had signed off on the report with no redactions.  As HuffPo noted:

If this were truly such a security concern, however, it would be incumbent on the agency to act swiftly to eliminate that threat, the engineer stated. As it is, the engineer suggested, no increased security actions have been undertaken.

This same engineer expressed serious misgivings, shared by others in and out of the NRC, that a nuclear power plant in Greenville, South Carolina, has been at risk from upstream dam failure for years, that the NRC has been aware of the risk, and that the NRC has done nothing to mitigate the risk.   In the redacted report, the NRC blacked out passages about this plant.

Event Unlikely, Would Be Sure Disaster 

South Carolina’s Oconee plant on Lake Keowee has three reactors, located 11 miles downstream from the Jocassee Reservoir, an 8,000 acre lake.  As HuffPo put it:

…the Oconee facility, which is operated by Duke Energy, would suffer almost certain core damage if the Jocassee dam were to fail. And the odds of it failing sometime over the next 20 years, the engineer said, are far greater than the odds of a freak tsunami taking out the defenses of a nuclear plant in Japan….

“Although it is not a given that Jocassee Dam will fail in the next 20 years,” the engineer added, “it is a given that if it does fail, the three reactor plants will melt down and release their radionuclides into the environment.”

When the NRC granted an operating license to the Oconee plant in 1973, danger from upstream dam failure was not even considered, never mind considered a threat against which some protection was needed.   The NRC and the plant’s owner both say the Jocassee Dam is not an immediate safety issue.   Oconee’s initial license was for 40 years.  It is now the second plant in the U.S. that the NRC has granted an extended license for another 20 years.

Union of Concerned Scientists Are Concerned 

The Union of Concerned Scientists, which says it is neither pro-nuke nor anti-nuke, but committed to making nuclear power as safe as possible, has considered the risk factors for Oconee. The NRC wrote in 2009 that “a Jocassee Dam failure is a credible event and in 2011 wrote that “dam failures are common” – and that since 1975 there have been more than 700 dam failures, 148 of them large dams 40 feet or more high.  The Jocassee Dam is 385 feet high.

For a dam like Jocassee, the NRC calculates the chance of failure at 1 in 3,600 per year – or 1 in 180 each year for the extended license.  NRC policy, when enforced, requires nuclear plant owners to mitigate any risk that has a 1 in 250 per years chance of occurring.

Oconee has three nuclear reactors, each of which is larger than the reactors at Fukushima, and so has more lethal radioactive potential.   Duke Energy reported its own upstream dam failure calculations to the NRC no later than 1996 and the NRC has responded by requiring no safety enhancements to address the threat.

Noting that the upstream dam failure risk does not take into account possible earthquakes or terrorist attacks, the Union of Concerned Scientists wrote:

The 34 reactors of concern are downstream from a total of more than 50 dams, more than half of which are roughly the size of the Jocassee dam. Assuming the NRC’s failure rate applies to all of those dams, the probability that one will fail in the next 40 years is roughly 25 percent—a 1 in 4 chance.

List of Reactors Potentially at High Risk of Flooding due to Dam Failure

Alabama: Browns Ferry, Units 1, 2, 3

Arkansas: Arkansas Nuclear, Units 1, 2

Louisiana: Waterford, Unit 3

Minnesota: Prairie Island, Units 1, 2

Nebraska: Cooper;  Fort Calhoun

New Jersey: Hope Creek, Unit 1;  Salem, Units 1, 2

New York: Indian Point, Units 2, 3

North Carolina: McGuire, Units 1, 2

Pennsylvania: Beaver Valley, Units 1, 2; Peach Bottom, Units 2, 3; Three Mile Island, Unit 1

Tennessee: Sequoyah, Unit 1;  Watts Bar, Unit 1

Texas: South Texas, Units 1, 2

South Carolina: H.B. Robinson, Unit 2;  Oconee, Units 1, 2, 3

Vermont: Vermont Yankee

Virginia: Surrey, Units 1, 2

Washington: Columbia

(Source: Perkins, et al., “Screening Analysis,” July 2011) 

William M. Boardman has over 40 years experience in theatre, radio, TV, print journalism, and non-fiction, including 20 years in the Vermont judiciary. He has received honors from Writers Guild of America, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Vermont Life magazine, and an Emmy Award nomination from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences

Reposted under Fair Use rules.