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Nuclear power plant shutdowns evoke concern
CLINTON, Ill. (AP) -- Reactors at the Clinton nuclear power plant automatically shut down twice since December, but the company that owns the plant did not notify area news media and DeWitt County emergency officials about either incident. Some nuclear industry critics say the two emergency shutdowns, known in the industry as scrams, ought to get area residents' attention and companies should be as open as possible.
"At the reactor, a scram is not a silent event," said David Kraft, director of the Nuclear Energy Information Service in Evanston, a watchdog group. "It gets people's attention. People have to ask: Why is this happening so much? It's a question the surrounding communities need to ask and get answers to."
Exelon Nuclear, which owns the Clinton plant and nine others, said two scrams are not excessive and there was no threat to public safety. Exelon said it is not required to notify anyone unless the shutdowns pose such a threat.
"No other industries call you up if they take their industries off line," company spokesman David Knox said. "Unless it is a safety issue, we do not see it as something that would prompt us to call out."
Knox said detailed information about plant shutdowns can be found daily at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission Web site, www.nrc.gov.
On Dec. 18, steam line valves leading from the reactor to the power-generating turbines closed because of a faulty circuit card.
The reactor shut down for four days. The plant released cold water into Clinton Lake, a 5,000-acre reservoir that serves as a cooling lake for the power plant, killing 7,000 fish.
On Feb. 4, low pressure in a control system that opens and shuts values caused the turbines and reactor to shut down. It lasted three days.
"The important thing is that once the pressure was low, the safety systems worked exactly as they were supposed to, shutting down the reactor," Knox said.
Jan Strasma, a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission office in Lisle, said the Clinton plant has the agency's highest rating even with two shutdowns in two months. He said the average nuclear plant has one shutdown per year.
The Clinton plant opened in 1987. After being off line from September 1996 to May 1999, the plant recently operated for 356 consecutive days without a problem.
-- Martin Thompson (email@example.com), February 27, 2001