Crews Repair Welds at Nuclear Plant

Repairs to four welds at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station in Jenkinsville are nearing completion, and the repairs at no time presented a threat to residents of Western Fairfield County, according to Rhonda O’Banion, public information director for SCANA. The welds were four of 66 welds to the reactor vessel head, a steel structure 6- to 8-inches thick that contains the fuel assemblies.

The weakened welds were discovered in the early stages of the plant’s current routine refueling outage, which began Oct. 12, O’Banion said, and were reported to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission along with a plan of action on Oct. 23. Maintenance crews were on standby at the beginning of the outage, O’Banion said, and ready to go to work in the event the need for any repairs was detected.

“We are currently in a refueling outage, which is done every 18 months,” O’Banion said, “during which time, we plan for maintenance. We do this preemptively. We schedule these reviews to look for things like this.”

O’Banion said the areas identified for repair were invisible to the naked eye and crews used robotic inspection techniques and ultrasonic testing to identify the weaknesses.

“This kind of maintenance is not uncommon over the life of a nuclear reactor,” O’Banion said, “and many other utilities have completed such repairs successfully.”

While O’Banion said there was no need at this time to consider replacing the reactor head, Tom Clements, a Columbia based environmental advocate who works with the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability (ANA) member group Nuclear Watch South, said he thinks that is exactly what they should do.

“Because of the age of the vessel, and because the whole vessel is subject to heat and radiation, they’re probably going to find more problems in the future,” Clements said, “so I think the NRC should order a new vessel head and replace it.”

But O’Banion said V.C. Summer is working within NRC guidelines and with NRC approval.

“But when there comes a time when we need to replace it, we will do so,” she added. “If the NRC was not in agreement, they would not have approved the work.”

Clements said he was glad to know the problems were detected, and that he was told by the NRC that V.C. Summer will be required to check these welds during every fueling outage.

“That’s a positive thing,” Clements said. “The problem is that the vessel that contains the nuclear material is old and more problems will likely arise. Hopefully, they will be found.”