Nukewatch Quarterly Fall 2013
How many leaks does it take before a sieve of a reactor is forced to shut down in the interest of public health, safety and the environment? Palisades, built in 1971 on the shore of Lake Michigan near South Haven, has become a fountain of radioactive pollution. The system’s Safety Injection Refueling Water Tank (SIRWT), containing 300,000 gallons of radioactively contaminated water, sprang leaks in June, August and September last year and then sprang more leaks in 2013. Some of the water has seeped into the reactor’s control room from the ceiling and onto a control panel. When the tank lost 90 gallons of water per day — up from 38 — Entergy, the owner, finally did something about it. Some welding repairs stopped the leak for a while.
The reactor was shut down for five weeks beginning May 5, 2013 due to another leak from a 1/8 inch crack in a nozzle in the floor of the SIRWT which was previously repaired and welded. What started as a 1-gallon-per-hour leak of radioactive water entering Lake Michigan increased to a single 82-gallon spill to the lake, according to the Huffington Post. Yet another leak occurred during repair work and for a second time some of it “poured” into the control room through the ceiling. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) said Entergy needed to repair its ceiling after the second dousing. The level of radioactivity released to Lake Michigan is unknown. The bottom of the 300,000 gallon tank was replaced after leaks exceeded the 38-gallons-per-day.
The NRC said about the 82-gallon spill to Lake Michigan that it amounted to only “1/50,000th of permissible levels.” Evidently, a leak 50,000 times bigger — that is, 82 gallons times 50,000 — or 4,105,000 gallons of radioactive water, would be permissible under NRC rules
Palisades has been shut down nine times since 2011.
The repairs that followed the May leak uncovered construction flaws dating from the 1960s. The NRC is investigating why a bed of sand and grout rings had not been used under the SIRW tank. The sand acts as a cushion and the grout rings as support, and their absence is the reason for the tank’s failure. Inspections by the NRC have increased but so have the leaks. In spite of its faulty operations and frequent shutdowns, Entergy just keeps rebooting the 42-year-old reactor.
— Huffington Post, May 6; Fred Upton Press Release, May 7; Grist, Aug. 6; Kalamazoo Gazette, July 17; Herald-Palladium, July 19, 2013; Michigan Public Radio, July 15, 2013 & July 12, 2012; South Bend Tribune, June 13, 2012 — BLU, and Kevin Kamps of Beyond Nuclear contributed reporting.