MINERAL — The North Anna nuclear plant is expected to begin producing electricity again today for the first time since a magnitude-5.8 earthquake shut down its two reactors almost three months ago. North Anna is likely to begin generating electricity tomorrow for the first time since both reactors at the Louisa County power station were shut down by a magnitude 5.8 earthquake on Aug. 23.
But the debate is just beginning over the future of the U.S. nuclear industry, especially reactors operating in parts of the Eastern and central United States that are far more vulnerable to earthquakes than previously thought.
The North Anna plant’s two reactors in Louisa County are among 27 already identified by federal regulators as potentially subject to higher seismic vibrations than they were designed to withstand — a possibility that was confirmed dramatically by the Aug. 23 earthquake centered 11 miles from the plant.
Just under a month after the quake, the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League filed a petition before the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board to reassess the site permit and pending licensing for a third reactor at North Anna.
The petition noted the history of earthquake activity in the Central Virginia Seismic Zone, as well as the well-documented controversy over a ground fault discovered beneath the plant during construction in the early 1970s. The power company eventually was fined more than $32,000 for “material misstatements of fact” about what it knew about the presence of the fault, which is considered to have been inactive for thousands, if not millions, of years.
The nuclear fission process began at the plant today about 3 a.m., almost three days after the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission gave Dominion Virginia Power permission to restart the unit.
“We’re expecting to be making electricity tomorrow with Unit 1,” Dominion spokesman Rick Zuercher said today.
The first of the two nuclear reactors will not go critical — the point when the reactor’s uranium fuel sustains a nuclear chain reaction — until Sunday morning, Dominion Virginia Power said.
Once Unit 1 reaches 30 percent power safely, the company will begin starting up Unit 2. Delays could occur, the Richmond-based company cautioned, noting that holdups are not uncommon even during normal operations.
Bringing one of the nuclear units back online usually takes about four days from a cold shutdown, which North Anna has been in, to normal power operations in which electricity is produced and placed on the electrical grid, the company said.
“Because the units will be starting up after the first earthquake to shut down a nuclear unit in the United States,” the company said in a statement, “the restart process will be prolonged to allow for additional equipment tests that can only be performed when the units are in various stages of startup as an extra, deliberate safety precaution.”
During startup, hundreds of pumps, motors, valves and other systems are brought online in a prescribed sequence, the company said.
Matthew Eatherton was one of four Virginia Tech professors to tour the stricken station the week after the earthquake as part of a “reconnaissance team” of engineers interested in the seismic effects on structures at the plant.
The team was not able to inspect the containment building that houses the two pressurized water reactors.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved a restart of both reactors after a series of inspections showed no functional damage from the quake.
But Paul Gunter, director of the the Reactor Oversight Project for the nuclear industry watchdogBeyond Nuclear, says only one of the two units has been properly inspected.
“The NRC basically has allowed the two units to to restart based on the inspection of one,” Gunter says.
The NRC says it is satisfied with the inspections that showed no functional damage to the plant.
The two reactors will be restarted in phases over 10 days, with tests on all safety equipment along the way. Extra staff also will be in on hand.
The first reactor is expected to reach full power by midweek. The second is expected to start next week and be up to full power by Nov. 20.
Jim Adams of Not On Our Fault Line said, “This is the kind of damage that’s happened in several places around the county.”
Not On Our Fault Line has a list of demands they want fulfilled before Dominion restarts the North Anna reactor.
Paxus Calta of Not On Our Fault Line stated, “We want them to do that re-licensing. We want them to have the public hearings that are necessary and associated with re-licensing. We want a transparent process.”
The group wants additional inspections on reactor number one and they want the NRC to force Dominion to go through a re-licensing process in order to re-determine the risk a significant earthquake poses.
Dominion says the group’s claims are without merit, and that if they have a complaint, they should take it up with the NRC.
At a hearing Friday morning in Maryland, Dominion executives told the NRC they’ve spent $21 million in inspections and that the plant is safe and ready to restart, but protesters in Mineral don’t buy it.
Calta stated, “We believe that Dominion is not doing their job. We think Dominion is putting its company profits ahead of the safety of the community and we’re outraged.”
North Anna Nuclear Plant Earthquake Risk: 1977 Memo Details Cover-Up Of Seismic Knowledge
WASHINGTON — While the 5.8 magnitude earthquake in Virginia on Aug. 23 did not happen on the ancient fault line that runs through the North Anna nuclear power station site, federal nuclear regulators and officials from Dominion Virginia, which operates the facility, covered up knowledge that they knew about the geologic hazard in the 1970s,according to a Department of Justice memo from the time.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports:
The company, then operating as Virginia Electric and Power Co., or Vepco, told the former Atomic Energy Commission in June 1973 that “faulting of rock at the site is neither known nor suspected,” even though the company knew about the existence of faulting at North Anna, the 1977 memo said.
Source: Huffington Post
- NRC set to validate Dominion’s use of ‘unaccepted’ EPRI report to allow North Anna restart (enformable.com)
- DOJ memo from 1977 indicates that Dominion Withheld North Anna Fault Information (enformable.com)
- November 1, 2011 Category 1 public meeting – NRC’s restart review and inspection of North Anna Nuclear Power Station following the earthquake of August 23, 2011 (enformable.com)
- WaPo: NRC directs quake-hit North Anna nuke plant to inspect supports for Reactor Pressure Vessel – No “significant” problems? (enenews.com)
- GEOLOGIC FAULTING UNDER THE NORTH ANNA NUCLEAR POWER PLANT THE HISTORY OF DOMINION-VIRGINIA POWER’s SEISMIC COVER-UP (enformable.com)
- NRC rejects quick restart at North Anna nuclear plant (enformable.com)
- North Anna Asks for Exemption from CoC For 12 Fuel Assemblies Loaded In Dry Fuel Storage Over Decay Heat Limits (enformable.com)