Recently in Nuclear Accidents Category

Three Mile Island Radiation Leak


Three Mile Island nuclear plantA radiation leak has been reported at the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plant near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Yes, despite the meltdown at this plant 30 years ago, portions are still functional today.

Apparently, an Exelon maintenance crew was performing maintenance work in the Unit 1 reactor building when a radiation alarm sounded. Workers were cutting a large number of pipes at the time. Unit 1 has been shut down for several weeks to overhaul new steam generators and other equipment.

Twenty employees were treated for radiation exposure. Original reports indicated over 100 workers needed to be decontaminated.

Exelon does not know the cause, but believes the incident does not pose an occupational threat, nor a threat to public health and safety. The cause of the leak is under investigation by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the entire plant is now shut down.

Even if this event really is not a threat to public health, it reveals that radiation dangers from nuclear power still exist, despite efforts to improve safety systems following the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident.

RivneNPPOn May 14, 2009, a fire broke out in Unit 1 of Ukraine's Rivne Nuclear Power Plant. Personnel from the Rivne Plant were able to extinguish the blaze themselves. The reactor unit was shutdown for routine maintenance and repairs at the time of the incident.

Some sources reported the incident as only a build-up of smoke, not an actual fire. The incident occurred as the result of a short circuited wire in a storage room at the facility's Reactor Unit 1.

The affected unit is a VVER 440/213 reactor with net output of 361 MWe and started commercial operations in September 1981.

Reactor 1 at Rivne NPP was shutdown in June 2008 because of leakage within the containment vessel. The leak reportedly did not exceed operational limits.

The Ministry of Emergency Measures reported the radiation and ecology at the Rivne Plant and surrounding areas were not affected. Reactor units 2, 3 and 4 are still operational.

Of similar interest, Rivne NPP's Reactor 3 was temporarily shutdown on May 4, 2009 to repair reported malfunctions.

Plutonium Leak at Austrian IAEA Facility


IAEA Lab SeibersdorfPressure buildup in a sealed sample bottle in a storage safe resulted in plutonium contamination that was limited to a storage room. The lab was empty at the time of the incident, which occurred early Sunday morning (August 3).

The leak happened in a high security area of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Safeguards Analytical Laboratory in Seibersdorf, Austria, 35 kilometers south of Vienna.

The IAEA says the lab is equipped with an air filtering system to prevent the release of radioactivity into the environment. The incident area will remain restricted until decontamination can be completed.

The Seibersdorf laboratory was built in the 1970’s and is considered outdated. An IAEA spokesperson said this incident was a one-time event that had nothing to do with the lab being outdated and that this could have happened in the most up-to-date lab. The agency also excluded the possibility that a person caused this incident.

Why am I not comforted by the IAEA’s explanation? I am especially dismayed that the IAEA has continued to operate a laboratory they admit is outdated and does not meet United Nations safety standards. How are we supposed to feel safe about nuclear energy when the organization that is supposed to pursue “safe, secure and peaceful uses of nuclear sciences and technology” apparently has no problem operating outdated facilities?

If you are one of the many people who believe that accidents at nuclear facilities are a thing of the past, think again. A friend passed along some information that France’s Tricastin nuclear facility has been temporarily closed after approximately 30 cubic meters (75 kilograms) of liquid containing unenriched uranium spilled from an overflowing reservoir. The liquid seeped into the ground and also reached the Gaffiere and Lauzon rivers.

The Tricastin facility, which is operated by Areva/Socatri, is located at Bollene in the south of France, 40 km from the tourist city Avignon. Tricastin has both nuclear reactors and a radioactive waste treatment plant.

The leak occurred Monday night, but people in the affected areas were not told about the problem until 10:00 AM Tuesday. Sounds eerily like Chernobyl, doesn’t it?

People in nearby towns have been warned not to drink water or eat fish caught in the rivers since Monday. The have also been told not to swim in the rivers or use their water to irrigate crops.

On Wednesday, Socatri carried out tests on the groundwater, three local wells and the rivers and found “no abnormal elements.” French Ecology Minister Jean-Louis Borloo has said there is no imminent danger to the local population.

Tricastin has been temporarily shut down because the French Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) inspected the facility on Thursday and found that existing prevention measures were deficient. The inspection found that “security steps aimed at preventing any further pollution were not completely satisfactory. Further, inspectors found “irregularities” at the site’s operations at the time of the accident.

This uranium leak may not pose a great risk to the public, but is a strong reminder that nuclear power is not as safe as people think. The scariest thing may be the inspectors finding deficiencies in plant safety three days after the accident. You’d think that plant administrators would have scrambled to make sure safety measures were in place immediately after the accident, if for no other reason than to cover their own butts.