WASHINGTON (AP) — Progress Energy’s Brunswick nuclear plant near Wilmington will get extra oversight by regulators after an inspection found fuel tanks for the backup generators weren’t properly protected from potential flooding, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said Friday.
NRC inspectors determined that a room housing fuel oil tanks serving the Brunswick nuclear plant’s emergency diesel generators could have flooded in a hurricane. The generators power the reactor’s cooling systems if outside electricity is cut off.
Progress Energy workers sealed cracks that could have allowed water to get into the fuel tank rooms and built wave barriers near the building housing the tanks. The building housing the fuel tanks is about 25 feet above sea level, NRC spokesman Joey Ledford said.
“In essence, this is a problem that could have been caused by extreme flooding in a hurricane event,” he said.
The NRC determined the failings represented a low to moderate safety risk.
The risk of water seeping into the fuel tank building was identified by an NRC inspector who works full-time at the Brunswick site in Southport, Ledford said. It was not part of a nationwide review of nuclear plant vulnerabilities since an earthquake and tsunami caused a meltdown at a similar plant in Fukushima, Japan, he said.
An NRC task force this summer recommended ramping up the level of protection at the nation’s 104 nuclear reactors to prepare them for incidents they were not initially designed to handle, such as prolonged power outages like the one that crippled the Japanese plant. The Brunswick plant’s two nuclear reactors are of the same design as those at Fukushima.
The Brunswick plant merits closer NRC scrutiny, said Tom Clements, Southeastern nuclear campaign coordinator for Friends of the Earth in Columbia, S.C.
“Brunswick is of the old Fukushima design, which presents a greater risk than later model reactors,” he said in an email.
The flooding potential identified for the generator fuel building has been corrected and Progress Energy is looking to make it even more secure against any potential flood, spokeswoman Jessica Lambert said.
“Since the events at Fukushima, we along with the rest of the industry have been significantly examining all potential flood-related impacts to our site,” Lambert said.
A separate, special inspection of the Brunswick plant prompted by an incident last month in which boiling water flowed out of an improperly sealed reactor chamber should be released within weeks, Ledford said. The Unit 2 reactor was shut down but the radioactive water that spilled out collected in a drain for normal processing.
The incident posed no safety risk to employees or the public but “raises important questions that need to be addressed,” NRC officials said last month.