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Water leak keeps nuclear plant off line

The shutdown, which started Friday because of a faulty valve, will be extended for several more days.

By ALEX LEARY

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 23, 2001


CRYSTAL RIVER -- Florida Power's nuclear plant, which shut down Friday due to a faulty valve, will remain off line for at least several more days because of a water leak containing radioactive particles, a spokesman said Tuesday.

The water was leaking from a valve inside the reactor containment building at a rate of 6 gallons per minute. The water is collected in a drain and treated, as is all water used by the plant, said spokesman Mac Harris.

No employees came in contact with the water during normal operations, Harris said when asked if the leak posed a risk.

"This is not a nuclear safety issue," he said. "Just like your car, you do not come in contact with the gasoline in your tank."

The nuclear plant has not produced electricity since Friday because of a problem with a different valve that feeds water to a steam generator.

That problem was discovered after a fire control system for the output transformers malfunctioned. There was no fire, Harris said, but fans that cool the transformers shut down.

To avoid overheating, the plant was reduced to 65 percent of normal output.

The fire control problem was fixed and as the output was increased, technicians noticed the feed water system was not working correctly.

Harris said the faulty valve was corrected over the weekend. But as the plant was being returned to normal operating temperatures Monday, "leakage from a valve inside the reactor containment increased."

Water has leaked from the valve for several months but not at the level discovered Monday, Harris said.

"While the rate of leakage is within the limits allowed in the plant's license, plant management has made the decision to make a repair now rather than operate until the next scheduled refueling outage, which is scheduled for this fall," he said in an e-mail.

The license allows 10 gallons per minute, Harris said. He said he did not know why the level was set at 10 gallons, other than it is part of the technical specifications for the facility.

An on-site inspector for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission could not be reached.

Once the nuclear unit is sufficiently cooled, workers will weld the valve.

Harris declined to say how long the plant will be off line and said he was not sure how much the loss of power production will cost Florida Power Corp., a subsidiary of Progress Energy.

Joe Adams, the president of the union representing many Florida Power employees, said he had spoken with a plant operator but did not know enough to comment.

"The brothers and sisters of Local 433 are working their butts off to get that unit working," Adams said. "If you're not generating power, you're not making money."

It has been several years since the last unscheduled shutdown, Harris said. In January 1996, the nuclear plant was shut down after officials discovered a leaking a condenser tube that was part of the plant's electricity generator.

The shutdown was caused by equipment failure in a non-nuclear section of the plant. A leak in the condenser tubes can lead to higher levels of chloride, which corrodes the equipment.

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