trojan


Remote Control at Nuclear Power Plants

, former director, Nuclear Safety Project

Disaster by Design: Safety by Intent #18

Disaster by Design

Disaster by Design/Safety by Intent #17 covered command and control problems at nuclear power plants that undermined safety. Remote control is required at nuclear power plants to provide capabilities when the control room has to be abandoned. This commentary covers remote control and some of its problems. Read more >

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Fire at the Nuclear Plant

, former director, Nuclear Safety Project

Disaster by Design/Safety by Intent #2

Disaster by Design

The March 1975 near-miss at the Browns Ferry nuclear plant in Alabama involved a fire in the cable spreading room. This room is located directly below the control room for the Unit 1 and Unit 2 reactors. Electrical cables from switches, gauges, and alarms on the control panels are routed through the floor into the cable spreading room where they radiate out to equipment throughout the plant. The fire burned for over six hours, destroying thousands of electrical cables. All of the emergency core cooling systems were disabled for the Unit 1 reactor and the majority of those safety systems were disabled for the Unit 2 reactor. Only heroic actions by workers prevented core meltdowns that fateful day. Read more >

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Fission Stories #40: No Rocket Scientists Here

, former director, Nuclear Safety Project

During April 1989, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) inspected the Trojan nuclear plant in Oregon. The NRC inspectors expressed concern about the location of the plant’s hydrogen storage tanks. They determined that a detonation of a hydrogen storage tank had the energy equivalent of 217 pounds of TNT. They were concerned about the consequences from such an explosion, particularly since four hydrogen storage tanks were located on the roof of the control room.

The NRC also expressed concern that the pressure relief valves for the hydrogen storage tanks discharged near the intakes for the control room’s ventilation system. Hydrogen released from the tanks could have produced a flammable or explosive mixture inside the control room.

The control room’s roof was crowded. There were also six nitrogen storage tanks up there. The nitrogen couldn’t explode like the hydrogen, but the NRC inspectors were concerned that nitrogen could incapacitate the operators if it leaked into the control room through the ventilation system.

Our Takeaway

The NRC issued an operating license for Trojan in November 1975. All the supposedly intensive, exhaustive reviews conducted by the NRC leading up to the issuance of the operating license failed to notice, or failed to care, that the control room’s roof was literally crowded with safety hazards. All the supposedly intensive, exhaustive inspections conducted by the NRC over the next 13-plus years failed to notice, or failed to care, about these safety hazards. The NRC deserves credit for noticing it in April 1989. The NRC deserves blame for having missed it for over a decade.

The NRC is currently reviewing several applications for new nuclear reactors. Both safety and economics demand that the NRC conduct thorough design reviews, not thoroughly poor reviews as of the control room design for Trojan.

“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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