A federal agency will finish its inspection of an Upstate nuclear power plant Friday, investigating a problem discovered there two weeks ago.
While doing tests at Duke Energy’s Oconee Nuclear Station near Seneca on June 24, operators found a problem with the backup system for shutting down the nuclear reactor.
The problems are in the standby shutdown facility, which is used if an emergency situation such as a fire or tornado affects the control room. Operators would then use the standby facility as a backup.
When operators ran a systems analysis at the facility, the pressurizer heater breakers meant to cool the reactors were found to have a problem that might cause the breakers not to function properly. Duke spokeswoman Addie Bradshaw explained, “This type of breaker may be vulnerable in very rare, but extreme circumstances.” She said these particular breakers had become degraded.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission sent a team to study the glitch this week. NRC spokesman Roger Hannah said it does not present a risk to the public, “There’s no immediate safety concern. The three units at Oconee continue to operate.”
Duke says it has an alternative, short-term method of cooling the reactors without needing the breakers. Bradshaw said the company is now looking to find a new type of breaker that will react properly under the extreme conditions.
It is the NRC’s first special inspection at the site since 2009. The agency traditionally allows operators to identify and correct problems at the site and does not step in unless they feel the company failed to take the necessary precautions (which occurred at a Hartsville plant last year). Hannah said it was too early to determine whether or not Duke took the proper steps.
The report will be finished in about 30 days.