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Nuclear Plant Shuts Down After Radioactive Leak

November 23, 1991

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) _ A nuclear reactor at a northwestern South Carolina power plant was shut down Saturday after radioactive water began leaking inside its containment building, prompting an alert, officials said.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission said all reactor safety systems were functioning properly at Duke Power Co.’s Oconee nuclear plant near Seneca, and no threat to public safety or plant personnel was expected.

″It is being contained in the reactor building,″ said NRC spokesman Ken Clark. ″The building is sealed, so they know there’s no radioactive material coming out of the building.″

Monitors outside haven’t detected unusual radiation levels, he said.

However, the South Carolina Emergency Preparedness Division activated its emergency operations center as a precaution, as did emergency officials in Oconee and Pickens counties.

″We don’t know where the leak is coming from specifically,″ Clark said. ″But it is in the form of steam.″

The steam, which is sealed in the building, turns to water as the reactor cools, he said.

The plant was on alert status for more than 15 hours until the Unit 3 reactor was cooled down to below 200 degrees, Duke Power spokesman Joe Maher said.

Duke Power reported the alert to the NRC at 2:14 a.m. after discovering the leak. Water was leaking at a rate of about 90 gallons per minute, NRC administrator Stewart Ebneter said in a news release.

About 24,000 gallons of radioactive water had leaked by 7:30 a.m., Clark said. The leak then slowed to 30 gallons per minute as the reactor was cooled and depressurized, said Ebneter, who works in the Region II office in Atlanta.

Inspectors can’t go inside the building until it reaches cold shutdown - when the building depressurizes and cools, Clark said.

The temperature early Saturday was around 600 degrees. A cold shutdown, by definition, is under 200 degrees, Maher said

Officials will decide Sunday when inspectors will enter the reactor building to find and repair the leak, he said.

″We still have to plan how we’re going in, and there is water on the floor of the reactor building,″ Maher said.

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