Unusual event' declared at Pennsylvania nuclear plant

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`Unusual event' declared at Pennsylvania nuclear plant By Associated Press, 12/11/2000 15:23

SHIPPINGPORT, Pa. (AP) A leaky valve at the Beaver Valley Power Station spilled highly radioactive water onto a concrete floor Monday, forcing the shutdown of the plant's No. 2 reactor and prompting a low-level emergency.

The approximately 6,500 gallons of water remained within the four-foot thick walls of the reactor containment building, according to a spokesman for the plant's owner. There was no indication of a threat to public health or safety.

The ''unusual event,'' the least serious of four emergency classifications, was declared at 5:36 a.m. and ended nearly nine hours later at 2:05 p.m.

Reports from the facility, located about 35 miles west of Pittsburgh, indicated there had not been a radioactive release from the plant, state and federal officials said.

At one point, radioactive water was spilling onto the floor of the containment building at the rate of 12 to 20 gallons a minute but had been reduced to about 7 gallons a minute by late morning, said Neil Sheehan, federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman. No workers were exposed.

''We've been monitoring the situation,'' Sheehan said. ''We've had a resident inspector on site since 6:30 this morning watching developments. The utility appears to be doing what's necessary and the plant appears to be shut down.''

The leak appeared to come from a 2-inch line used to drain water from the reactor's coolant system, said Todd Schneider, a spokesman for the plant's owners, FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Co. The system's main line measures about 31 inches, he said.

Workers in protective suits were expected to re-enter the building to check on the leak Monday afternoon, Schneider said. An earlier attempt to reach the valve was dropped to give the reactor time to cool.

The plant transfers energy from the reactor to turbines through dual systems of circulating water. The reactor superheats water that is used to turn water in a separate, non-radioactive system into steam to turn the plant's turbines.

The incident began at 3:20 a.m., Sheehan said. Operators are required to shut down the reactor once leaking water exceeds a rate of one gallon a minute, he said.

Beaver Valley's two reactors have operated since 1987. Each can generate 820 megawatts of power, enough to light 500,000 homes.

FirstEnergy took over the plant from Pittsburgh-based DQE Inc., the parent of Duquesne Light Co., in a $1.7 billion swap of assets last December. The company also owns two Ohio plants, the Perry Nuclear Power Plant east of Cleveland and the Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station east of Toledo.

The other three classifications of emergencies are an alert, a site-area emergency and a general emergency. Only one general emergency an incident involving serious damage and the release of radioactivity beyond the site has ever been declared at a U.S. nuclear plant, after the March 1979 accident at Three Mile Island near Harrisburg.


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), December 11, 2000

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