Here's the text of the AC Press article on Thursday's NRC meeting.
"Watchdog group questions safety of nuclear plant"
(sidebar) "Unplug Salem's concerns center on cracking of alloy tubes in
generators inside Salem Unit 2. The tubes are nearly identical to one
that burst 18 months ago at a New York plant".
PENNSVILLE TOWNSHIP- A panel of Nuclear Regulatory Commission
officials admitted that they don't know whether a single broken steam
tube in a Salem nuclear generator could lead to multiple beaks and
ultimately a core meltdown.
About 10 NRC officials gathered Thursday night at the Hampton Inn
here from headquarters in Maryland, the region office in King of Prussia
and the nuclear plants in Salem County to address concerns raised by
Unplug Salem, a Linwood-based group.
The group's concerns center on corrosion and cracking of 1300 alloy
tubes contained in four generators inside the containment vessel of
Salem Unit 2.
The generator tubes are nearly identical to one that burst 18
months ago at a plant in Indian Point, N.Y., leaking radioactive steam
into the atmosphere.
NRC officials said nuclear plants are designed to safely shut
themselves down when such a leak occurs.
"The plant is designed to accommodate the failure of a tube," said
Glenn Meyer, NRC branch chief for the Salem plants.
Thursday's meeting, however, focused on a new NRC committee report
on steam generators that raises the question of whether a single rupture
could cause a chain reaction of broken tubes.
In the event of "gross failure' of multiple steam generator tubes,
more water could escape through steam vents than the plant is designed
to replace, said Dave Lochbaum, a nuclear safety engineer with the Union
of Concerned Scientists in Washington, DC.
Without sufficient water, the nuclear reactor would melt down,
Lochbaum said. Such a meltdown would pollute much of southern New Jersey
Meyer said such a scenario is only a hypothesis that NRC staff
members are evaluating.
"That's not to say it absolutely can't happen," Meyer said. "Multiple
tube failures: Can they happen? We can't definitely say 'no'. That's what
we are pursuing."
In the meantime, there is no safety risk with continued operation of
the nuclear plant, said Rick Ennis, the NRC project manager in charge of
responding to the steam-generator report.
NRC officials said a single tube failure is unlikely, because plant
operator Public Service Electric and Gas plugs tubes when they are
corroded 40 percent of the way through. The pencil-thin tubes are tested
for cracks using radio waves.
Although current testing methods don't typically discover a tube
that is only 40% cracked, tubes in a high-pressure generator can
withstand a crack 85 percent of the way through, said Joseph Muscara, an
NRC senior metallurgical engineer.
To date, 871 tubes have been plugged at Salem Unit 2.
Meyer said PSEG has a strong financial incentive to make sure they
plug any tubes during refueling outages. If a tube breaks when the plant
is operating, power production has to stop for weeks, he said.
Generators in Indian Point Unit 2 and Salem Unit 2 both use the same
size and type of nickel-alloy tubing. But NRC officials have told Unplug
Salem coordinator Norm Cohen that a direct comparison between the two
generators is inappropriate because the Salem tubes have been
On Thursday, Cohen asked the NRC panel to provide certification of
the heat treatment. But the nuclear officials said only PSEG has that
Cohen and Lochbaum questioned whether it was worth the risk to keep
the plant running while the NRC resolves the question of tube failures
in older nuclear steam generators.