Steam Leak Triggers Shutdown at Nuclear Plant

JENKINSVILLE – A radioactive steam leak inside a containment tank at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station triggered a shutdown of the plant Sunday that may last as long as two weeks.

According to Jim Reece, a Region II inspector for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and Senior Resident Inspector at V.C. Summer, an alarm sounded inside the control room at the plant late Sunday afternoon. Technicians identified the source of the alarm as a leaking relief valve inside the reactor’s pressurizer relief tank and notified the NRC. Steam from the pressurizer was entirely contained inside the tank, Reece said, and posed no danger to the public.

The steam was escaping from the valve at a rate of 5 gallons per minute, Reece said, well below the technical specification limit of 10 gallons per minute. Nevertheless, Reece said, S.C. Electric & Gas (SCE&G) made the decision to shut down the plant. Reece said it was unknown exactly how much steam escaped through the valve. While the leak continued throughout the shutdown process, it diminished as the plant slowly ceased operation. By approximately 6 p.m. Monday, the plant had reached “mode 5,” or “cold shutdown,” Reece said.

“Although still within operating limits, management made the conservative decision to shut down the plant to inspect and replace the valve,” Rhonda O’Banion, a spokesperson for SCANA, said in an email to The Voice on Tuesday. “The timeframe for returning the plant to power operation is under review but is expected to be 14 days or less. This issue poses no threat to public safety or the environment. Resident inspectors from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission have been notified.‎”

The precautionary shutdown was welcomed by one local nuclear energy watchdog organization; however, they were less happy with the public notification process.

“This leak could have been a precursor to a larger leak, so SCE&G was prudent in shutting the reactor down,” Tom Clements, director of the public interest organization Savannah River Site Watch, said. “SCE&G and the NRC should have notified the public of the situation and about steps it was taking to address it.”

Clements said he learned about the incident at 1 p.m. Tuesday from a member of the public in another state.

“This is simply not the way to communicate to the public about an incident that could have safety implications at the V.C. Summer site,” Clements said. “We will expect a more timely public notification in the event of future incidents at V.C. Summer.”