published Thursday, May 8th, 2014

Browns Ferry unit shuts down after pumps cut off

  • photo
    The Tennessee Valley Authority's Browns Ferry Nuclear Station near Athens, Ala. has shut down Unit 3.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The newest reactor at TVA's oldest nuclear plant automatically shut down after the power supply was temporarily interrupted to two recirculation pumps that supply water to the reactor core, TVA officials said Wednesday.

The trip of the two pumps at the Unit 3 reactor at the Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant caused the unit to cease power generation around 9:30 a.m. EDT on Tuesday. TVA spokesman Jim Hopson said Wednesday that feedwater pumps maintained water in the reactor core, but the unit automatically shut down as designed when water levels covering the fuel rods dropped by about 40 inches.

"We still had 13 feet over the reactor rods and the water was quickly restored to the previous level [of about 17 feet above the fuel rods]," Hopson said. "We continue to investigate the causes of this incident, but the reactor shut down automatically and there was no safety risk from this event."

TVA was keeping the reactor on standby Wedvesday night while the investigation was continuing, Hopson said.

Dave Lochbaum, senior scientist for the Union of Concerned Scientists and a former employee at both Browns Ferry and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said previous TVA studies of the pumps that circulate water through the reactor core have indicated that an incident like what happened Tuesday should not have occurred.

"Apparently, Browns Ferry operated outside the bounds of its safety study," Lochbaum said. "Will TVA fix this dilemma before restarting Unit 3? And will TVA do anything to check whether Units 1 and 2 are equally impaired?"

Hopson said the problems on Unit 3 were corrected and are not believed to be similar to those of the other two Browns Ferry units.

"But we will continue to look at all of our equipment and procedures at all three units," Hopson said.

Lochbaum said the reactor scram was not of any safety concern but did interrupt some of the power generation at Browns Ferry and needs to be assessed to ensure such power interruptions don't continue to happen. TVA loses about $1 million a day in lost power generation while the reactor is idled.

Browns Ferry has had only a limited number of reactor trips in recent years -- far fewer than at the single unit Pilgrim Nuclear Plant in Massachusetts, a similar boiling water reactor plant like Browns Ferry. The Pilgrim plant had six unplanned reactor shutdowns in 2013.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 757-6340.

about Dave Flessner...

Dave Flessner is the business editor for the Times Free Press. A journalist for 35 years, Dave has been business editor and projects editor for the Chattanooga Times Free Press, city editor for The Chattanooga Times, business and county reporter for the Chattanooga Times, correspondent for the Lansing State Journal and Ingham County News in Michigan, staff writer for the Hastings Daily Tribune in Nebraska, and news director for WCBN-FM in Michigan. Dave, a native ...

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