Electrical Fire Knocks Out Spent Fuel Cooling
at Nebraska Nuclear Plant
Wednesday 15 June 2011
A fire in an electrical switch room
on Tuesday briefly knocked out cooling for a pool holding
spent nuclear fuel at the Fort Calhoun nuclear plant outside
Omaha, Neb., plant officials said.
The safety of deep pools used to
store used radioactive fuel at nuclear plants has been an
issue since the accident at Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant
in March. If the cooling water in a pool is lost, the used
nuclear fuel could catch fire and release radiation.
As ProPublica reported earlier,
fire safety is a continuing concern at the country's 104
commercial reactors, as is the volume of spent fuel piling
up at plants.
Officials at Fort Calhoun said the
situation at their plant came nowhere near to Fukushima's.
They said it would have taken 88 hours for the heat produced
by the fuel to boil away the cooling water.
Workers restored cooling in about
90 minutes, and plant officials said the temperature in the
pool only increased by two degrees.
The fire, reported at 9:30 a.m.,
led to the loss of electrical power for the system that
circulates cooling water through the spent fuel pool,
according to a report from the Nuclear Regulatory
Commission. A chemical fire suppression system discharged,
and the plant's fire brigade cleared smoke from the room and
reported that the fire was out at 10:20 a.m., the NRC said.
Mike Jones, a spokesman for the
plant's owner, the Omaha Public Power District, said Fort
Calhoun has a backup pump to provide water to the spent fuel
in case the main system is lost. That pump, which runs on a
separate power supply from the rest of the plant, was
inspected and standing by on Tuesday, but plant operators
restored main power to the pool before the emergency pump
was needed, he said.
Fort Calhoun's single reactor has
been shut down since April for refueling. The plant had
already been operating under a heightened level of alert
because of nearby flooding on the Missouri River, the NRC
said. The cause of the fire remained under investigation