Federal regulators to discuss radioactive water leak that shut down Oconee reactor in SC


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COLUMBIA, South Carolina — Federal regulators have scheduled a meeting to discuss a radioactive water leak that led to the shutdown of a South Carolina nuclear reactor, officials said Thursday.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is to meet in Atlanta on July 31 to discuss the incident at the Oconee Nuclear Station. The session is open to the public, and NRC representatives will be on hand afterward for individual conversations.

In November, officials shut down a reactor at the Duke Energy-run facility near Seneca, about 30 miles west of Greenville. The shutdown came after engineers detected flaws in the airtight, steel-lined concrete containment building designed to prevent any radiation from leaking into the air or ground.

Officials said there was no threat to employees or the public, and the crack was quickly repaired. But NRC said in a release issued Thursday that officials found flaws with Oconee's method to check for such cracks.

Oconee Nuclear Station has three reactors, and one of them was already offline for refueling before the shutdown of Unit 1. As of Thursday, all three reactors were listed as fully operational.

Several weeks before the November incident, Oconee's Unit 3 was shut down when engineers discovered a faulty control valve was causing changes in the flow of water in a different system that generates steam to turn the turbines and create power. That reactor started generating power again three days later and was quickly fully operational.

In October, a Government Accountability Office report found that, since 2000, the Oconee Nuclear Station reported the most safety violations of any nuclear plant in the Southeast, with 163 lower-level violations and 14 higher-level violations.

Lower-level violations pose very low risk, such as improper upkeep of a transformer, while higher-level violations range in significance, such as an electrical system that caused a fire.

In May, more than 100 gallons of water with traces of a radioactive hydrogen isotope leaked during a transfer between chemical treatment ponds at Oconee. Officials said all the leaked water was contained on site, noting that levels of tritium — a byproduct of atomic fission — were well below limits that would make any drinking water unsafe.


Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP

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