Monday, February 23, 2015

GUEST POST: Dangerous Nuclear Problem, Thousands of Cracks in Nuclear Containment Vessels Due to Manufacturing Error or Possible Aging Flaw





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.


“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 2

Initial 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.


3 comments:

  1. The problem here is rather simple: should they find cracks they would need to shut the reactors down (?) and lose money. That is really not going to be viewed in a favourable way by business, so they will hope it gets tangled somewhere in the bureaucracies. And if those made in Belgium are cracking perhaps others are also cracking. Does not sound like anyone took these matter seriously. That is, who kept his job. And the 1970's are a period of US history some people get nostalgic about!

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  2. Without your research I would probably not have heard about this as it is certainly not in the "news". I find it amazing how readily everyone skirts around even mention of Fukushima. It is the skeleton in the closet. I may have formed too radical an opinion of the magnitude of this disaster--but it strikes me all the time as the sort of thing that could end life on this planet or so wound it that little of what we call normal life would still be possible. Interesting study in mass psychology I think. By now I would think Hollywood would have put out an end of the world epic that started with the break down of a nuclear plant . . . but it is way too real. Still we had On The Beach.

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