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article imageReport: Valve malfunction at Alabama Nuclear plant triggers probe

By Leo Reyes     Apr 5, 2011 in Environment
A reported malfunction of a key valve used to operate a reactor cooling system at the Alabama Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant last October prompted the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) to meet with nuclear regulatory officials Monday to explain the incident.
The regulator's action as well as public apprehension on the safety of US nuclear plants surface in the wake of the uncontrolled overheating reactors at the Fukushima Nuclear Power plant in northeastern Japan.
The Alabama Nuclear Power plant and Fukushima Nuclear Plant in Japan both use Mark 1 boiling water reactors made by General Electric.
"TVA officials said they discovered the fault when they tried to cool uranium at the Alabama plant's No. 1 reactor during a refueling outage only to find that a valve in the secondary containment system did not work," Reuters/Yahoo News reports.
"There was never any danger to the public. We shut the plant down," said TVA manager of nuclear communications Ray Golden.
"The risk would be that you would have to find an alternate path to cool the uranium fuel and we were able to do that," he said, adding that plant operators used back-up pumps to cool the reactor.
"Any time you have safety systems that are potentially inoperable it decreases the safety system and increases the risk," said NRC spokesman Roger Hannah, adding that a key question was how long the valve had been inoperable.
The Alabama nuclear plant probe came a few days following a report by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) saying many companies operating nuclear plants are not reporting some equipment defects that could pose risks to the public.
At the same time NRC also raises questions about the agency's oversight, saying reporting guidelines for the nuclear industry are "contradictory and unclear."
The report says NRC inspectors found at least 24 instances where possible equipment defects were identified but not reported to the agency from December 2009 through September 2010, reports.
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