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Nuclear Reactor in Texas Leaking Cooling Water
The New York Times (via Drudge Report) ^ | April 18, 2003 | MATTHEW L. WALD

Posted on 04/18/2003 6:23:25 PM PDT by Paleo Conservative

WASHINGTON, April 18 — A nuclear reactor in Texas is leaking cooling water from the bottom of its giant reactor vessel, a development that experts view with concern because they have never seen it before, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said today.

Technicians at the South Texas Nuclear Project, about 90 miles southwest of Houston, have found residues indicating that cooling water leaked from the vessel through two penetrations where instruments are inserted into the core, according to the company that operates the plant. Operators at all 103 commercial nuclear reactors have been giving closer attention to their reactor vessels since the discovery last year of extensive leaks in the vessel head at another plant, Davis-Besse, near Toledo, Ohio.

The Texas plant, South Texas 1, shows much smaller signs of leakage than the Ohio plant. In both cases, technicians found deposits of boron, a chemical added to the water to control the nuclear reaction, which remains after the water evaporates. At Davis-Besse, technicians cleaned out boron with shovels; in Texas, technicians found an amount about half the volume of an aspirin tablet, according to Ed Halpin, the plant general manager.

No corrosion is visible but no one is sure what is underneath. At Davis-Besse, the steel of the vessel was so corroded that a metal part on the head flopped over like a mailbox that was no longer stuck properly into the front lawn. At that plant, workers have replaced the vessel head, a part that was intended to last for the lifetime of the reactor. Davis-Besse has remained closed since the leak was discovered, 13 months ago.

The South Texas leak is unexpected and, so far, unexplained. "This is the first time it's been seen, either here or abroad," said Victor Dricks, a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Representatives of two national nuclear industry groups are at the plant to study the problem, and plant managers have promised to keep the reactor shut until they find the cause and fix it to the commission's satisfaction, he said. The plant is currently shut for re-fueling.

The vessel is 14.4 feet wide and 46 feet high, made of steel about six inches thick. Its bottom has 58 penetrations, where instruments can be inserted to measure the flow of neutrons, the subatomic particles that sustain the chain reaction. There are leaks at two of the penetrations, although the volume of water was apparently small, Mr. Dricks said.

At plants around the country, cracks of some metal parts have been traced to stresses created in construction. Others have been caused by a phenomenon called intergranular stress corrosion cracking, which occurs in some metals when they are under stress at high temperature. But Mr. Halpin said he would not speculate about the cause of the South Texas leak.

Water inside the vessel is at a temperature of more than 500 degrees and a pressure of more than 2,000 pounds per square inch, so even a small hole could release large volumes of radioactive water into the containment building. Mr. Dricks said, however, that the pumps in the plant's emergency core cooling system could inject water faster than it could leak through a hole the size of the penetration, so that the nuclear core would stay covered. The design is for contamination in such cases to stay within the containment dome.

A problem for repair is that the radiation field under the reactor is about 500 millirem per hour, Mr. Halpin said. At that rate, a worker would absorb in four hours the radiation dose that most reactor operators set as a limit for a full year. Repair work in such high fields is usually carried out by large teams of workers, each spending only a short period at work.

South Texas 1 is one of the youngest plants in the country. It went on line in August 1988. South Texas 2, which is adjacent, followed in June 1989. It shows no sign of leakage. The two reactors are owned by the cities of Austin and San Antonio, a subsidiary of American Electric Power, and Texas Genco LP, a generating company.


TOPICS: Breaking News; Business/Economy; Front Page News; News/Current Events; US: Texas
KEYWORDS: aep; corpuschristi; cpl; hlp; houston; nrc; nuclarreactor; nuclearreactor; stnp
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1 posted on 04/18/2003 6:23:25 PM PDT by Paleo Conservative
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To: Paleo Conservative
Great...

/sarcasm
2 posted on 04/18/2003 6:25:27 PM PDT by TexasGunLover ("Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists."-- President George W. Bush)
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To: Paleo Conservative
This is an example of why American reactors are uneconomic. Only the French knew how to do it right. Yep, the French. Deal with it.
3 posted on 04/18/2003 6:27:30 PM PDT by Torie
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To: Axman4; B. A. Conservative; Deagle; The South Texan; Theodore R.; drummaster; IRtorqued
PING!
4 posted on 04/18/2003 6:32:04 PM PDT by Paleo Conservative (Rest in pieces Saddam!)
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To: Paleo Conservative
Send a plumber already...
5 posted on 04/18/2003 6:37:30 PM PDT by Sangamon Kid
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To: Paleo Conservative
This means one will be able to find the bass easier in the dark and with a Geiger counter. Whoopieee!!!
6 posted on 04/18/2003 6:37:41 PM PDT by vetvetdoug
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To: Paleo Conservative
500 degrees with preasures over 2000 pounds,something wrong here.600 pound steam is about 750 degrees.
7 posted on 04/18/2003 6:41:51 PM PDT by eastforker
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To: eastforker

8 posted on 04/18/2003 6:49:44 PM PDT by The Magical Mischief Tour
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To: eastforker
I just hope no one turns on the cold water spigot to the darned thing!
9 posted on 04/18/2003 6:54:02 PM PDT by Sangamon Kid
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To: Paleo Conservative

10 posted on 04/18/2003 6:55:52 PM PDT by Excuse_My_Bellicosity
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To: Paleo Conservative
As an ex-Navy nuclear plant operator, let me offer a possible explanation for this. Normally there is a "Primary Shield" that encloses reactor vessels. This shield is actually a tank that typically is composed of a steel or inconel inner and outer shells with layers of lead, steel, borated plastic, and water (which is sometimes borated). Instrumentation is inserted in the primary shield tank to measure neutron flux, shield water temperature, and other parameters. Boron is practically never added to the primary coolant that circulates in the reactor since it has a tendency to reduce the neutron flux necessary to maintain steady state operations (this is what is known as a neutron poison). The only time Boron would be added to the coolant is during an absolue emergency shutdown where the core was about to fail, or when the reactor core is being decommissioned. What they are seeing is Primary Shield water, not primary coolant.
11 posted on 04/18/2003 6:59:24 PM PDT by P8riot (Stupid is forever. Ignorance can be fixed.)
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To: Overtaxed
And I thought I had a bad leak!
12 posted on 04/18/2003 7:00:34 PM PDT by 2Jedismom ('The commitment of our fathers is now the calling of our time')
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To: Paleo Conservative
Maureen Dowd is already planning on how she'll work this into her next Bush bash.
13 posted on 04/18/2003 7:03:38 PM PDT by Bogey78O (check it out... http://freepers.zill.net/users/bogey78o_fr/puppet.swf)
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To: Excuse_My_Bellicosity

14 posted on 04/18/2003 7:04:20 PM PDT by ALS
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To: 2Jedismom
LOL! I thought of you when I read the headline.
15 posted on 04/18/2003 7:08:02 PM PDT by Overtaxed
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To: Paleo Conservative
Shoulda used Lone Star Beer, not water.
16 posted on 04/18/2003 7:10:36 PM PDT by Blue Screen of Death
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To: P8riot
Civilian pwr's don't have a primary shield water tank. During operation rods are fully withdrawn Tave is controled with boron. The penetrations in the bottom of the vessel are for flux mapping instrumentation.
17 posted on 04/18/2003 7:10:58 PM PDT by radmanptn
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To: eastforker
500 degrees with preasures over 2000 pounds,something wrong here.600 pound steam is about 750 degrees.

You don't want steam in a reactor vessel, you need liquid coolant. I assume that you are checking saturation tables. Water at saturation temperature is borderline steam. You want a pressure that will prevent steam from occurring in the core and removing the cooling effect of the water. So 500 degrees and 2000 lbs is a perfectly acceptable combination.

18 posted on 04/18/2003 7:12:04 PM PDT by P8riot (Stupid is forever. Ignorance can be fixed.)
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To: radmanptn
It depends on the design of the core. Is this one a BWR or a PWR?
19 posted on 04/18/2003 7:13:10 PM PDT by P8riot (Stupid is forever. Ignorance can be fixed.)
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To: P8riot
All the commercial reactors in the US are single wall pressure vessels. The coolant circulates to the steam generator and back to the reactor vessel in the case of pressurized water reactors or to the turbine and back in the case of boiling water reactors.

20 posted on 04/18/2003 7:15:16 PM PDT by meatloaf
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To: P8riot
PWR http://www.nukeworker.com/nuke_facilities/North_America/usa/nrc/region4/stp/index.shtml
21 posted on 04/18/2003 7:15:17 PM PDT by radmanptn
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To: Blue Screen of Death
Shoulda used Lone Star Beer, not water.

The national beer of Texas!

22 posted on 04/18/2003 7:16:29 PM PDT by Paleo Conservative (Rest in pieces Saddam!)
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To: radmanptn
The purpose of a Primary shield tank is many fold, one of which is to reduce the amount of post shutdown neutron flux to allow for quicker ingress to the containment area for maintenance or repairs, otherwise you would be waiting an awfully long time after shutdown before you could do anything. I find it hard to believe that civilian PWR's don't use this configuration. But then again, nothing in the civilian nuclear program would really surprise me.
23 posted on 04/18/2003 7:18:30 PM PDT by P8riot (Stupid is forever. Ignorance can be fixed.)
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To: P8riot
OK,I think I understand,the water is pumped in at 2000psi but it only reaches 500 degrees,I can understand this now.I was thinking in the opposite direction when BFW is at 850 psi,to enter boiler generating 600psi steam generating 750 degrees.
24 posted on 04/18/2003 7:22:17 PM PDT by eastforker
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To: meatloaf
All the commercial reactors in the US are single wall pressure vessels.

WRONG! It would be more correct to say that all of the commercial PWR's are single wall pressure vessels. BWR's are bu natire not pressure vessels. Besides the Primary Shield is not a pressure boundary. It is immediately external to the reactor pressure vessel.

25 posted on 04/18/2003 7:23:34 PM PDT by P8riot (Stupid is forever. Ignorance can be fixed.)
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To: P8riot
bu natire = by nature (typing too fast)
26 posted on 04/18/2003 7:25:15 PM PDT by P8riot (Stupid is forever. Ignorance can be fixed.)
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To: eastforker; P8riot
OK,I think I understand,the water is pumped in at 2000psi but it only reaches 500 degrees,I can understand this now.I was thinking in the opposite direction when BFW is at 850 psi,to enter boiler generating 600psi steam generating 750 degrees.

Why would anyone want to use English measurements to do these calculations? Isn't it a lot easier to use SI units?

27 posted on 04/18/2003 7:26:02 PM PDT by Paleo Conservative (Rest in pieces Saddam!)
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To: Paleo Conservative
So thats why the sunsets have had such a brilliant glow lately :o)
28 posted on 04/18/2003 7:27:13 PM PDT by Liberty Valance (Keep our Soldiers in your prayers.)
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To: Torie
The French picked one reactor design and built all plants based on that single design. And they reprocess their fuel rods too.
29 posted on 04/18/2003 7:28:26 PM PDT by Petronski (I'm not always cranky.)
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To: P8riot
OK, and so?

BTW is this a Babcock/Wilcox generator, Westinghouse, or GE?
30 posted on 04/18/2003 7:28:51 PM PDT by ninenot
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To: P8riot
Don't forget ABWR.
31 posted on 04/18/2003 7:30:44 PM PDT by Starstruck
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To: Excuse_My_Bellicosity

OMG! On the left? Is that Bill O'Reilly?

32 posted on 04/18/2003 7:31:30 PM PDT by Petronski (I'm not always cranky.)
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To: Torie
Actually, the Russki generators were highly cost-efficient--much more so than the French ones. But the Russki ones did have this little fire problem.
33 posted on 04/18/2003 7:31:31 PM PDT by ninenot
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To: P8riot
There is a lot of differences between civilian nuclear power and navy nuclear power, like power entries and higher contamination levels.
34 posted on 04/18/2003 7:32:09 PM PDT by radmanptn
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To: Paleo Conservative
Because many of us are not scientist or engineers ,just plain old blue collar workers with a minimal understanding of physics.Thats what makes FR so great,we can understand the problem without having to know the fundamentals of a nuclear reactor or how an atom is split.We are not elitist here as far as I know,we are conservatist yearning for the truth on a leval we can all understand.
35 posted on 04/18/2003 7:36:00 PM PDT by eastforker
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To: ninenot
OK, and so?

So. It's probably not primary coolant, so there is no need to panic. If it were primary coolant, this wouldn't be a leak with 2000 lbs behind it it would be a rupture.

BTW these units are Westinghouse.

36 posted on 04/18/2003 7:36:06 PM PDT by P8riot (Stupid is forever. Ignorance can be fixed.)
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To: P8riot
Commercial reactors are a bit different than naval reactors. They do indeed add boron to the primary water which acts as a chemical shim over core life. Initally the concentration is about 1200 ppm, reduced by 2 - 3 ppm per day, this allows all control rods to remain more or less fully withdrawn at all times (excepting axial power shaping rods which are positioned based on other criteria).

A shield water tank is not used, given that the larger available space allows for a massive solid vault to be used for biological shielding.
37 posted on 04/18/2003 7:36:41 PM PDT by brutuss
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To: Paleo Conservative


in related news, al gore the man who uncovered LOVE CANAL claims to have discovered the leak
38 posted on 04/18/2003 7:37:21 PM PDT by TheRedSoxWinThePennant
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To: radmanptn
Like I said, nothing would surprise me. Are you now, or have you ever been in the nuclear industry, either military or civilian?
39 posted on 04/18/2003 7:37:27 PM PDT by P8riot (Stupid is forever. Ignorance can be fixed.)
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To: brutuss
A shield water tank is not used, given that the larger available space allows for a massive solid vault to be used for biological shielding.

Now that makes sense to me. I guess you get a little myopic sometimes operating on a single class of plant.

40 posted on 04/18/2003 7:39:10 PM PDT by P8riot (Stupid is forever. Ignorance can be fixed.)
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To: Paleo Conservative
Since the source is the New York Times, I'm going to consider 5,000 percent blown out of proportion.
41 posted on 04/18/2003 7:39:36 PM PDT by Tribune7
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To: Torie
This is an example of why American reactors are uneconomic. Only the French knew how to do it right.

What is the difference in the way they do it?

42 posted on 04/18/2003 7:41:48 PM PDT by Rodney King (No, we can't all just get along.)
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To: P8riot
Actually, as an ex navy nuke who ended up in the commercial nuclear industry after he got out in 1981 (bubbleheads forever!), BORIC ACID is an integral part of the reactivity control process. All rods are at the top of the core and reactivity is controlled over the core life with a concentration of boric acid. As core life extends and the fuel burns, the boric acid concentration in the reactor coolant drops to where the concentration is about 50 PPM at the end of core life. It will start out at about 1200 PPM or so. Commercial cores are only about 7% enriched but are very large. Reactivity is not controlled with the rods. They are used to start up and are parked at the top for max negativity insertion on a protective trip. They have no no primary shield like the sub and skimmers had. They have the core cladding, the reactor vessel, and the containment for keeping the bad stuff from the public.

The boric acid is corrosive to carbon steel. However the vessel and the RCS piping is clad with Stainless which resists corrosion from BA. That is why a slight leak is so bad. Davis Besse had a slight leak that they didn't pursue and it ended up taking a large chunk of the carbon steel out. The SS clad was the thing that saved their butts prior to discovery.

Boric Acid is an extremely important part of reactor reactivity control in a commecial reactor. They are nothing like the highly enriched navy cores.
43 posted on 04/18/2003 7:42:54 PM PDT by montomike
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To: P8riot
Yes I was an ELT, and am currently working as a health physic tech.
44 posted on 04/18/2003 7:43:21 PM PDT by radmanptn
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To: Paleo Conservative
Haven't these people ever heard of J.B. Weld?


45 posted on 04/18/2003 7:43:24 PM PDT by Sloth ("I feel like I'm taking crazy pills!" -- Jacobim Mugatu, 'Zoolander')
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To: radmanptn
I was an ELT Machinist. Don't you just miss it! How many Charged Disc analysis did you radio because they didn't come out?
46 posted on 04/18/2003 7:47:44 PM PDT by montomike
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To: Dog Gone
FYI......
47 posted on 04/18/2003 7:49:11 PM PDT by deport
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To: montomike
My CDFPA's always came out right.
48 posted on 04/18/2003 7:50:00 PM PDT by radmanptn
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To: 2Jedismom
How is YOUR leak? Fixed it yet?
Sounds like it's good not to be near Sweeny...
49 posted on 04/18/2003 7:50:45 PM PDT by anotherdubya
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To: radmanptn
Yeah...right?!
50 posted on 04/18/2003 7:51:29 PM PDT by montomike
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