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Fission Stories #129: Crystal River and the Nuclear Maytag Repairmen

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In the 1970s, actor Jesse White played a repairman in commercials for appliances made by Maytag. The angle was that he was a lonely man seldom called because Maytag appliances were too reliable to require his work.

The NRC resident inspectors at the Crystal River Unit 3 nuclear plant may view the Maytag repairman’s “heavy” workload with envy.

Crystal River Unit 3 was shut down on September 26, 2009, for a refueling outage. During this outage, workers replaced the steam generators. Because the steam generators are larger than containment’s doors, workers cut through the thick concrete and metal bars comprising the containment’s wall to create an opening to remove the old steam generators and install their replacements. The process of cutting a hole caused large cracks in the containment wall well away from the opening. The containment’s concrete cracked again in March 2011 as workers were fixing the original problem. The containment’s concrete cracked again in July 2011 weeks after repair work had stopped.

In 2012, all work on repairing containment halted as the plant’s owner merged with another power company and the Board of Directors for the merged companies pondered whether to pay the high cost of repairing the containment or to permanently shut it down. All the fuel from the reactor core had been offloaded into the spent fuel pool and all but minimal custodian tasks at the plant were suspended pending the Board’s decision on the plant’s status.

All this inactivity left the NRC’s resident inspectors with less to do than the Maytag repairman. After checking to verify that the reactor remained shut down with all its fuel in the spent fuel pool, they faced about 7 hours and 45 minutes to fill before heading home.

The waiting game ended for the Crystal River Unit 3 workers and NRC inspectors last week when the company announced it would not be restarting the plant. Some will have jobs to do dismantling the plant. Many will not be needed and must find new jobs. Or retire early like Crystal River Unit 3 did.

Our Takeaway

While the waiting game is over at Crystal River Unit 3, it continues for the workers and NRC inspectors at three other U.S. nuclear power reactors that have been shut down longer than a year: Fort Calhoun in Nebraska and San Onofre Units 2 and 3 in California.

The decisions of whether to repair or shut these reactors are complicated and people understandably have strong feelings on both sides of the issue. Like at Crystal River, in the meantime hundreds of workers at the plants face uncertain futures. They have to be asking themselves if they should hold out hope that the plants will restart or look elsewhere for a more certain career and financial protection for their families.

Regardless of one’s views on nuclear power and the future of these nuclear plants, one can have compassion for these nuclear Maytag repairmen.

 

“Fission Stories” is a weekly feature by Dave Lochbaum. For more information on nuclear power safety, see the nuclear safety section of UCS’s website and our interactive map, the Nuclear Power Information Tracker.

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About the author: Mr. Lochbaum received a BS in Nuclear Engineering from the University of Tennessee in 1979 and worked as a nuclear engineer in nuclear power plants for 17 years. In 1992, he and a colleague identified a safety problem in a plant where they were working. When their concerns were ignored by the plant manager, the utility, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), they took the issue to Congress. The problem was eventually corrected at the original plant and at plants across the country. Lochbaum joined UCS in 1996 to work on nuclear power safety. He spent a year in 2009-10 working at the NRC Training Center in Tennessee. Areas of expertise: Nuclear power safety, nuclear technology and plant design, regulatory oversight, plant license renewal and decommissioning

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