NRC to take 2nd look at buried pipes

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BRATTLEBORO -- Due to concerns over recent leaks in pipes at several nuclear power plants in the country, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s chairman is asking the agency’s technical staff to review the way it oversees underground pipe maintenance and management.

"Although they have not jeopardized public health and safety, leaks from buried pipes continue to occur and we need to assess the NRC’s and licensee’s efforts to prevent them," said Chairman Gregory B. Jaczko. "The agency’s handling of these events has focused on each incident as it occurs, but we need to look at what we’re doing on a generic level to determine what additional actions may be necessary."

Jaczko tasked the staff with reporting back to him by early December.

Though leaks at two plants owned and operated by Entergy have been discovered in the past two years, no leaks from underground piping have been discovered at the company’s Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon.

At Yankee, there are no underground pipes that carry radioactively contaminated water, according to a reliability report issued by Nuclear Safety Associates earlier this year.

"Compared to other plants, we have very little linear feet of buried piping," said Rob Williams, spokesman for Yankee.

What underground piping there is, he said, is in "very good condition."

In addition, Yankee engineers are keeping a close eye on those pipes, said Williams.

"As part of our license renewal application, we have committed to inspect our safety-related underground piping," he said.

Entergy has applied to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to extend the operating license of Yankee for another 20 years, from 2012 to 2032.

Portions of piping for the plant’s service water, emergency diesel generator fuel system, standby gas treatment and advanced off-gas system are buried, said Williams.

A spokesman for the NRC said there have been no cases of buried pipe leakage identified at Yankee.

The director of Vermont’s radiological health program said there are systems in place to identify any leakage if it were to occur at Yankee.

"The station has an extensive and diligent environmental surveillance program," said Bill Irwin, who added the state doesn’t leave it up to Entergy to find leaks.

"That is the basis of conducting our own sampling and testing of samples of groundwater and surface water both on-site and off-site," he said.

On Feb. 16, a one-and-a-half inch hole in a pipe at Entergy’s Indian Point power plant in the Hudson Valley was discovered to have leaked 100,000 gallons of water into the ground before it was fixed. Entergy claimed the water was cleaner than tap water and the public was in no danger.

The pipe supplied a 600,000 gallon tank that is meant to be used to flood the reactor vessel in case of an emergency. Because an automatic system was topping off the tank, no low-level alarm was ever sounded.

Last month, a leaking pipe at Entergy’s Palisades nuclear plant in Michigan was repaired. The year before, a leak of tritium-contaminated water was discovered and fixed.

Similar leaks have been discovered at FirstEnergy’s Davis-Besse in Ohio and Dresden, Byron and Braidwood, all in Illinois and all run by Exelon.

In April in New Jersey, the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant, owned by Amergen, was found to have leaked 190,000 gallons of tritiated water into the ground. Shortly before the leak, Oyster Creek, which is the oldest operating commercial nuclear reactor in the country, received permission from the NRC to extend its operating license for another 20 years.

Bob Audette can be reached at raudette@reformer.com, or at 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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