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Title: Radiation Leak at MU Reactor Draws Inquiry

By KATHLEEN DANES, Missourian staff

April 16, 2000

A three-minute nuclear incident that occurred during reactor refueling at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday at MUs Research Reactor resulted in an investigation by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Acting Research Director Ken Brooks said a 3-foot-by-3-foot beam of radiation hit a concrete wall, releasing a radiation level higher than normal.

The incident created a level of 10 rem in the floor of the reactor where the incident took place.

Ten rem is about equal to two or three CAT scans, Brooks said.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration allows no more than five rem of exposure in a single year.

No radiation was released to the environment, and no one at the plant was exposed to any radiation.

This incident occurred when one fuel element, a power source that is about the length of a keyboard, was removed from the reactor core. The element was then placed in a basket, which was in a deeper end of the reactor pool.

However, this basket was in one small, unshielded area. Two-hundred thirty-nine concrete bricks, which would typically be in place, had been removed earlier in the week.

Brooks said the bricks were removed to do a routine examination.

Once the problem had been detected, a reaction operation team on duty moved the element into a deeper part of the reactor pool, which was shielded. The shielding was then replaced by a crew which was not exposed to any radiation.

Because the reactor sits in a pool of water 30 feet deep, it is handled by the workers with long aluminum tubes, Brooks said. Its similar to people standing on a deck above a hot tub. The crew then reached down in the water to move the element.

Water neutralized the threat of exposure.

Officials notified the NRC a few hours after the incident occurred. Friday, investigators from Washington spent about six hours at the reactor on what Brooks termed a fact-finding mission.

The NRCs report will be released in 30 to 45 days.

The fact that the NRC came out is significant, said St. Louis-based nuclear activist Kay Drey. Unless its important, they dont go.

Brooks doesnt know what will come of the NRCs investigation.

The NRC can shut us down at any time, he said. But the reactor has returned to its routine operation mode.


-- (, April 16, 2000

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