Exelon probing shutdown of Braidwood reactors

By Julie Wernau
Posted Aug. 16, 2010 at 12:39 p.m.

Exelon Corp. is investigating the cause of shutdowns this morning of two nuclear reactors at Braidwood Generating Station.

The Unit 2 turbine tripped off line at 2:06 a.m., followed 13 minutes later by a shutdown of the Unit 1 reactor.

Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokeswoman Prema Chandrathil said in the case of Unit 2, there was a problem with the path of the electrical current, which tripped the turbine and, in turn, the reactor.

In the case of Unit 1, she said, a secondary cooling system malfunctioned, which led steam to be released from the main release valve for cooling purposes. The unit was then manually shut down, she said.

“All of these steps went forward as designed, as engineered and as planned,” she said. “The utility and the NRC are investigating. We have to go ahead and try to determine what exactly happened there, and if (the two incidents) are connected.”

Chicago-based Exelon said environmental experts are testing condensate and water in the system for tritium –¬† a radioactive form of hydrogen –¬† which would have been released into the air with the steam. According to the NRC, tritium levels are likely to fall well below regulatory limits. The company said the shutdowns pose no threat to plant personnel or the public.

“As this happened overnight, we understand our neighbors may have heard the venting steam and we want to make sure they know there is no cause for concern. We appreciate their patience,” Braidwood Station Site Vice President Amir Shahkarami said in a statement.

Tritium occurs naturally but is produced in greater concentration in nuclear reactors. The isotope can increase the risk of cancer but is considered one of the least dangerous radioactive substances because it leaves the body quickly, according to the EPA.

This March, Exelon agreed to pay more than $1 million to settle lawsuits filed by Atty. Gen. Lisa Madigan after the company allowed radioactive tritium to leak outside three nuclear power plants.

Leaks of tritium-contaminated water seeped into the ground around the company’s Braidwood, Byron and Dresden plants and, under orders from the state, the company¬† cleaned up contaminated groundwater, improved monitoring and ensured that wastewater was diluted enough to meet federal standards.

After the Braidwood contamination was revealed in 2006, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission cited Exelon for failing to respond properly to 22 leaks dating to 1996.

The nuclear plant is about 60 miles southwest of Chicago. At full power, its two reactors produce enough electricity to power 2 million homes. The NRC said the reactors will stay offline until the causes of the malfunctions are determined and fixed.

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  1. Skinny Dog Aug. 16, 2010 at 12:13 pm

    We need to switch to liquid fluoride thorium reactor, or LFTRs. The whole world needs to. LFTRs don’t have tritium-laced, super-heated water operating at 2,000 psi. LFTRs operate at atmospheric pressure, so if a LFTR does leak, the liquid fluoride drools out and cools instantly into an inert slag, like a trickle of lava. The slag doesn’t evaporate into the atmosphere or leach into the groundwater, and can be scooped up with a shovel (hint: wear gloves and a respirator.) And, LFTRs can consume the waste from other reactors as fuel. The “long-term” waste from a LFTR becomes completely non-radioactive in just 300 years, not 300,000 years. We need our national infrastructure rebuilt, and that includes our fleet of aging reactors.

  2. RAK Aug. 16, 2010 at 12:40 pm

    Another case of – The Pepsi Syndrome.

  3. Nuke Boy Aug. 16, 2010 at 1:38 pm

    The isotope can increase the risk of cancer but is considered one of the least dangerous radioactive. Nothing like sucking in more cancerous debrie with an “oh, only some people will get it”. Thanks for putting us at risk as always. The people never received any of that law suit.

  4. Jerry Aug. 16, 2010 at 3:46 pm

    Yeah, but nuclear energy is SOOO cheap to produce…..if you don’t consider the cost of radioactive cleanup and storage. But if you just make that the responsibility of the taxpayers then Nuclear power is SOOO cheap, and profitable for the Corps that rape us.

  5. mesharko Aug. 16, 2010 at 5:16 pm

    According to “The Oil Drum” energy blog, LFTR research was dropped in the mid-70s because, unlike Uranium fueled reactors, the LFTRs couldn’t produce weapons-grade Plutonium. As Skinny Dog suggests, LFTRs still offer a very viable alternative to conventional reactors, many of which are approaching the end of their economic lifespans.

  6. Nuclear Engineer Aug. 16, 2010 at 6:47 pm

    Jerry, the corporations that run these plants pay into trust funds during the reactors life that will be used to pay for the decommissioning process. Nowhere in the process do tax dollars come into play.

  7. DaveKraft Aug. 16, 2010 at 7:16 pm

    RE: @ Nuclear Engineer: “the corporations that run these plants pay into trust funds….that will be used to pay for the decommissioning process. Nowhere in the process do tax dollars come into play.”

    Not quite right, NE. RATEPAYERS pay the bill to the corporation to then be deposited into a decommissioning account. Because this is different from state to state, and accounts are often tied to the markets, the GAO and others have noted that some funds will be underfunded when it’s time to decommission. In Illinois, the law requires the funds to be escrowed; but that’s not true in other states. Even here, Exelon wanted to do an early Decom of the closed Zion plant, but had to back off when the tanking economy and markets ate away over $200 million in funds. They now have to build that fund back up. In states where a shortfall may occur, the ratepayers and taxpayers will be left holding the bag.

    Where utilities are suing the DOE for failure to take title and possession of the high-level wastes, taxpayers are financing the penalties. And RATEPAYERS are the ones who have been paying into the waste fund, not the corporations.

  8. theyrekillingus Aug. 16, 2010 at 8:14 pm

    They keep downplaying these issues 1 by 1–it’s all lies

  9. ALLBULL Aug. 16, 2010 at 10:17 pm

    More bull. Why is it that the only emission they ever mention is tritium?

  10. TooClose Aug. 18, 2010 at 6:36 pm

    Does anyone know what direction The steam that contained tritium & #8211 went.