Earlier today the Byron nuclear power plant near Rockford IL lost all offsite power to unit 2. The unit scramed and diesel generators took over. Unit 1 continues to have offsite power, at this point unit 2 appears to be still on emergency diesel generators. Smoke was seen near a transformer for unit 2 but dispatched fire fighters did not find evidence of a fire. Excelon energy, the plant’s operator, vented steam from the non-nuclear side of the plant to attempt to cool the reactor down faster. This steam contained detectable tritium but an amount has not been declared.
At the time of posting this Byron had been on emergency diesel generators for over 8 hours, offsite power went down at 10:18am. US reactors are currently required to have only 4 hours minimum of battery back up in case of a loss of both grid power and use of the emergency diesel generator.
Excelon’s press spokesmen tried to pass off this comment to calm concerns over the tritium releases:
“Tritium, an Excelon spokesman said, is formed naturally in the upper atmosphere, is a component of rain and is found in virtually all of the Earth’s surface water. It naturally breaks down into helium, said spokesman Paul Dempsey.”
Tritium is not “found in virtually all of the Earth’s surface water”.
“Naturally occurring tritium is extremely rare on Earth, where trace amounts are formed by the interaction of the atmosphere with cosmic rays.”
Tritium has a half life of 12.32 years as it decays into helium 3.
Tritium is potentially dangerous if inhaled or ingested. It can combine with oxygen to form tritiated water molecules, and those can be absorbed through pores in the skin.
Those tritium leaks may contain more than just tritium. What is leaking is caused by small leaks in the steam generator allowing radioactive isotopes out to the environment from the reactor.
The Byron nuclear plant has had a long ongoing problem with tritium leaks. They also had a similar power loss episode in 2008 and a problem with back up pumps failing after Exelon insisted the pumps would work only to later admit they wouldn’t. There was also a Freedom of Information request in 2007 for Byron that the NRC refused to make the documents public.
There is either only one offsite power line feeding the unit or an electrical system and switchyard that does not have sufficient redundancies. In less than 12 months Browns Ferry lost offsite power during a tornado, North Anna lost offsite power during the east coast quake and Byron lost power today.
Exelon is now saying that they think a piece of equipment in the switchyard may have failed causing the outage.
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