| Article published Thursday, June 12, 2003|
NRC issues caveat after
By RACHEL ZINN
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission took steps
this week to ensure that easily clogged sumps arenít a problem at
nuclear plants around the nation.
The commission sent a
bulletin to 68 operational plants asking them to report on the
condition of their sumps, which collect water used to cool nuclear
reactors during emergencies.
Nuclear plant officials have 60
days to report that their sumps meet regulations making clogs
unlikely or describe plans to reduce the chance of clogs.
donít know at the moment how much of an issue this could be at the
various plants," Scott Burnell, an NRC spokesman, said.
Burnell said information from the Davis-Besse plant near Oak Harbor,
Ohio, brought more attention to the possibility of sumps being
blocked by debris.
Last year, an investigation of Davis-Besse
revealed a small gap in the screen covering the plantís
The gap could allow debris to enter the sump
circulatory system and block it, preventing water flow.
plant must have an adequate supply of water to cool the reactor in
Mr. Burnell said the nationwide bulletin
was necessary "just to make sure the Davis-Besse information was not
indicative of a possible widespread issue."
The NRC has
studied the likelihood of clogged sumps since the mid-1990s, but Mr.
Burnell said the nationís nuclear oversight agency has little
information about what measures specific plants take to avoid the
Richard Wilkins, a spokesman for FirstEnergy, which
operates Davis-Besse, said nuclear plants with designs similar to
Davis-Besse have discussed the possibility of sump blockages for the
"Everybody has been grappling with it," he said.
"Is it an issue, or isnít it? And if it is, how do you deal with
During its recent overhaul, Davis-Besse replaced the
screen covering its sump with an eye toward making the system extra
The new screen is 1,200 square feet, 24 times the size
of the former 50-square-foot screen.
"We wanted to go to the
NRC and say that for Davis-Besse, the sump issue is at rest," Mr.
For nuclear plants that have not addressed the
issue, the NRC has several recommendations, including more
aggressively cleaning the area around the sump, frequently checking
that sump screens and drainage areas are not blocked, training
operators on responses to sump clogging, and ensuring that alternate
water sources are available to cool the reactor if the sump is
Mr. Burnell said if plants ignore the problem, the
NRC could demand that certain plants upgrade their equipment and
take other measures to reduce the chance of sump clogs.