News Headlines this week from various sources identify a major issue with Nuclear Plant containment vessels built in the 1970s by a Belgian company, Rotterdam Dry Dock. Thousands of cracks were found in Belgium steel of two nuclear containment vessels, the same manufacturing used in twenty other older systems used worldwide, to include the USA.
Fukuleaks reports http://www.fukuleaks.org/web/?p=14453
“the new round of inspections on two reactors in Belgium found thousands of additional cracks in the reactor vessels…13,047 cracks in Doel 3
3,149 in Tihange 2Initial inspections thought the cracks were possibly due to the manufacturing process at the foundry that made the steel vessels. This same foundry made a number of US reactor vessels still in operation. Even the Belgian nuclear regulator is calling for an international response to this risk and suggested all nuclear reactors should be checked for this kind of aging flaw.”
The Belgium company that built the steel containment systems is no longer in operation making tracing of quality control issues difficult. To make matters worse, of the 22 similar systems, several are located in the USA. And many of these older containment systems located in the USA do not seem to have inspections of the steel casings via the recommended procedure for steel, ultrasound.
The NRC regulations are minimal for the inspection process for steel containment; most systems have been required only to have inspections every ten years and those inspections, for steel, were 'visual' only. Fukileaks lists the reactors in the USA with potential issues as they built by the same company that built the failed reactor containment. The Belgian reactors have been shutdown due to possible vessel cracking
Per the www.platts.com article, in regards to the four reactors in Virginia with this possible flaw, the article stated:
Dominion is following developments in Belgium, but has not been notified by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission of any information related to the incident, Richard Zuercher said.
The NRC is sending a materials expert to a meeting in Belgium on the matter next week, agency spokesman Scott Burnell said Friday. It is too early to say whether NRC will impose additional requirements based on the Belgian incident.
What is concerning is the fact the inspections, done under guidance of the NRC, do not address the steel containment, which could be suffering a similar flaw or cracking due to aging.
On review of the US NRC Inspection Manual Procedure, no in depth inspection seems to have been done. The NCR regulation states "Evaluate by visual examination and/or review of licensee
documentation the condition of steel and concrete containment structures at nuclear power plants and verify containment integrity." http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/insp-manual/inspection-procedure/ip62003.pdf
On review of submitted documents to NRC for the State of Virginia reactors identified by Fukuleaks, the four units do not indicate detailed inspection of the steel containment vessels, made by the same manufacture as the cracked Belgium containment vessels.
From the PDF, "The North Anna and Surry containments were not designed to accommodate inspections. There were no regulatory requirements to implement Subsection IWE of ASME Section XI prior to North Anna and Surry commencing operations."http://pbadupws.nrc.gov/docs/ML0706/ML070660112.pdf
Frankly, before any of the nuclear plants in the USA receive permission to operate for 80 yrs, they should be checked for similar flaws to those found in the steel of the Belgium plants. While USA companies will wait for the NRC Materials Expert to attend this week’s session in Brussels and NRC for guidance, the NRC should revise their regulations and provide stricter guidelines for safety of existing nuclear plants.
At a minimum NCR should require in-depth/ultrasound inspection of the steel in the nuclear containment vessels. NRC regulations seem lax in regards to testing steel components which can, and do, suffer aging flaws and cracks. This is especially of concern as the private, for profit companies operating those plants hope to extend the life of the reactors/containment systems to 80 years as a method of costs savings.