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Three Mile Island Shuts Down After Pump Failure 247

Posted by samzenpus
from the a-bit-of-a-problem dept.
SchrodingerZ writes "The nuclear power station on Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania shut down abruptly this afternoon. Its shutdown was caused when one of four coolant pumps for a reactor failed to work. 'The Unit 1 reactor shut off automatically about 2:20 p.m., the plant's owner, Exelon Corporation, reported. There is no danger to the public, but the release of steam in the process created "a loud noise heard by nearby residents," the company said.' If radiation was released into the environment, it is so low that it thus far has not been detected. The plant is a 825-megawatt pressurized water reactor, supplying power to around 800,000 homes, thought there has been no loss of electrical service. Three Mile Island was the site of a partial nuclear meltdown in 1979. The Unit 2 reactor has not been reactivated since."
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Three Mile Island Shuts Down After Pump Failure

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 21, 2012 @12:34AM (#41407701)

    But, to be fair, isn't this how these things are suppose to work? Something fails, everything gracefully shuts down?

    • by fredgiblet (1063752) on Friday September 21, 2012 @12:40AM (#41407725)
      Yes.

      Not that that's going to stop the shitstorm
      • by Black Parrot (19622) on Friday September 21, 2012 @12:58AM (#41407805)

        Yes.

        Not that that's going to stop the shitstorm

        Clearly, we need more backup pumps for shitstorms.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by ozmanjusri (601766)

        Maybe.

        I'll reserve judgement on what's actually happened, because this industry has a history of salamitaktic, lying, cover-ups and manipulation of public opinion.

        It's possible this innocuous announcement is the start of a series of press-releases, each admitting to progressively worse problems. If that's the case, all the Pollyannas on Slashdot will have vanished by the time the real scope of the event is clear.

        • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 21, 2012 @02:03AM (#41408079)

          Oh for fucks sake. There are event classifications if shit goes really wrong. Since they didn't even declare an Unusual Event (lowest of four classifications), things are under control. It appears that there may have been complications during the trip, but there is no emergency. And for your information, if there is an emergency the plant has to declare it within 15 minutes and inform state and local authorities within another 15 minutes. The people who make these decisions are licensed by the NRC and can be held personally responsible. They are also legally protected from any type of retaliation for taking action based on safety concerns. They aren't going to cover it up for three reasons: 1) their families live nearby, 2) the legal ramifications are severe, and 3) they could easily get another job at any other plant in the country (~2000 workers of their level of training in an industry that wants 3000 or 4000).

          • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 21, 2012 @04:00AM (#41408467)

            "Three Mile Island is still shutdown Thursday night. Around 220 Thursday afternoon, people who live near the nuclear power plant heard a loud noise, saw steam and then the plant automatically shut down.

            This is the second time that this has happened in the past month."

            http://www.whptv.com/news/local/story/UPDATE-3-Thursdays-TMI-shutdown-is-the-second-in/_Z1vYirDt0ybASp0FZhmUw.cspx [whptv.com]

            "The Nuclear Regulatory Commission said Thursday that it was satisfied with Exelon’s repairs following a reactor shut-down at Three Mile Island on Aug. 22.

            The NRC said a small leak in the reactor coolant system was caused by “micro-cracks” in a diaphragm in a pressurized heater bundle within the containment barrier. The cracked diaphragm was made of alloy 600; it was replaced with one made of stainless steel, and the unit was powered back up."

            No doubt the saga will continue.

          • by PopeRatzo (965947)

            Oh for fucks sake. There are event classifications if shit goes really wrong. Since they didn't even declare an Unusual Event (lowest of four classifications), things are under control. It appears that there may have been complications during the trip, but there is no emergency.

            And we've got every reason to trust Exelon.

            "Clean, safe, and too cheap to meter".

        • by osmifra (2033466)
          IF something actually goes bad in Nuclear energy its very hard to cover up something that anyone can measure with a freaking tool!!!! Stop spreading FUD, there's no high levels of radiation and that can easily be measured by anyone. Wanna see cover ups in energy? Go look for carbon mines and fuel refineries and then tell me something. With far more accidents deaths and nature crimes per year each than all nuclear accidents combined.
      • by bcmm (768152) on Friday September 21, 2012 @04:45AM (#41408645)
        To be fair to the shitstorm, there are historical reasons to be a bit worried when Exelon describe something as a planned release of steam with minimal release of radioactive material. Lets hold out for the NRC report.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Yep. Basically, everything worked as it was meant to. Problem will be fixed soon and life will continue as usual.
      Also, if one wishes to scare greenies half to death: http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/event-status/event/2012/ [nrc.gov]
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 21, 2012 @01:32AM (#41407945)

      It doesn't sound like a graceful shutdown. We'll have to wait for the NRC event report tomorrow. A reactor cooling pump trip would typically initiate a reactor protection trip (scram). The steam generators would cool the primary by sending steam to the condenser steam dumps. Instead there was a loud noise which indicates that steam was being vented to the atmosphere via the atmospheric steam dumps. This implies that the main steam stops (isolation valves to the turbines) shut. Potential causes for that would be excessive cooldown (an interlock), loss of the condenser vacuum, or a secondary equipment fault. None of these is normal.

      I'm guessing that it was probably an electrical fault. A reactor cooling pump trip and secondary pumps could be powered from the same electrical buses since they are not considered safeguards equipment. The other possibility is that the operators didn't control the cooldown properly, or there was an I&C fault that tripped an interlock for the main steam isolation valves.

      Disclaimer: I'm familiar with Westinghouse PWRs, but not the Babcock & Wilcox PWRs. So take what I say with a grain of salt.

      • by Splab (574204)

        Would that be rock salt? Perhaps Thorium?

      • by thegarbz (1787294) on Friday September 21, 2012 @03:55AM (#41408443)

        Of course it's not graceful but a shutdown as a result of equipment failure never is. Steam venting isn't graceful, but then neither is a SCRAM.

        I work in the process industry and the only time a shutdown is ever graceful is through carefully planned and usually long duration operator actions. Even then some processes they just get it down to a stage where there will be minimal damage and then hit the trip button and hope nothing breaks.

        The key thing here is what shutdown the process was a safety system which prevented a hazardous event from occurring, rather than hazardous event occurring and causing the shutdown. Compared to that this event really can be considered quite graceful.

        • by AmiMoJo (196126)

          Actually there is another rather important issue that has not been mentioned yet: reliability. TFA claims that the reactor which was forced to shut down was supplying 825MW. That means there had to be a spare 825MW capacity available instantly in the system to avoid a temporary black-out. Not just "we can spool this up in half an hour", but 825MW of on-line generation capacity being mostly wasted just to cover this eventuality.

          As the system transitions away from centralized large scale generators to more di

          • by bobbied (2522392)

            As the system transitions away from centralized large scale generators to more distributed small scale electricity sources it becomes more efficient and more reliable.

            True in some ways... Except when you are using standard "green" energy sources for power generation. Bad things happen when the wind stops blowing or a cloud drifts by. Even on the best day, you can only count on about 20% availability of capacity from wind or solar, which means you have 80% reserve capacity available from fossil fuels not being used. One green exception to this is hydro-electric, which can usually be throttled up in a very short time and doesn't usually suffer unplanned outages.

          • by thegarbz (1787294)

            I don't think the plant had the spare capacity, but rather the grid did. 825MW is nothing compared to the difference between peak and base load for a large city. I'm not sure if America publishes openly the daily electricity trading stats like in my country but in my state which has a population less than 1/3rd that of Pennsylvania the peak to base swing changes by more than 5GW daily.

            If you run your powerplants like we do with very little peak smoothing capacity then yes 825MW suddenly missing from the gri

          • by HornWumpus (783565) on Friday September 21, 2012 @11:32AM (#41411597)

            It's called spinning reserve. Mostly turbines running at idle and hydro units that are river flow limited on generation anyhow. The hydro units in particular are not wasting any energy waiting to be called on. That said they are limited on ramp rate as putting a 'wall of water' down most rivers is not allowed (for good reasons; dangerous, erosive. Also strands fish when it stops). The exception there is when one reservoir cascades directly into another, those can more or less ramp as fast as the equipment will allow (which is pretty fast).

            Also note: the system just lets the voltage drop (browns out) while the 'ready reserve' units spin up. 120 VAC is purely nominal. Talk to someone that designs 120VAC power supplies. They should function down to about 95V IIRC. This is by design.

            Also also note: most transmission areas are both importing and exporting at any given time. They can always just cut their exports and shift a part of the issue to their neighbors. Increasing imports isn't likely to happen in the middle of the day. The lines were likely running at max capacity to begin with.

            • by tibit (1762298)

              Voltage dropping was helpful when a lot of the load was resistive (incandescent lightbulbs, linear regulators in most low-voltage equipment, etc.). As the voltage dropped, the power demand dropped as well. These days, the switching power supplies are negative resistances and as the voltage drops the power demand doesn't drop. In fact, due to typically lower efficiencies with lower input voltage, the power demand goes up as the input voltage drops! From what I imagine, one fine day the U.S. grid won't be abl

      • by dbIII (701233) on Friday September 21, 2012 @04:03AM (#41408479)

        It doesn't sound like a graceful shutdown

        A "graceful" emergency shutdown of a large thermal power station unit is actually bloody noisy as the steam goes into the blow down vessel/s.
        Also any water that touches the turbines doesn't actually go into the reactor, it goes through heat exchangers where the working fluid of the reactor is on the other side.
        Disclaimer: I'm familiar with the turbine side (fairly universal amoong all thermal power stations of the same size) but in my case the boilers were all coal fired. There are many similarities to the point where one of my co-workers was a Russian turbine engineer with a lot of nuke experience (and some scary stories).

      • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 21, 2012 @04:23AM (#41408565)

        This is a very accurate reply with one exception. Generally, the condenser can't support the steam output of the steam generators (they're normally rated around 10-25% of full load). Most plants in the US will steam dump to atmosphere because it's easier and doesn't put unnecessary strain on the equipment.

        Plus, dumping to atmosphere has the added benefit is that the whole plant staff knows immediately that they are staying late.

        Source: I am an I&C engineer that has worked on many US and European units.

      • by Hobart (32767)

        I'm guessing that it was probably an electrical fault. A reactor cooling pump trip and secondary pumps could be powered from the same electrical buses since they are not considered safeguards equipment

        Dude, you always won at SCRAM [wikipedia.org] didn't you?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Um, no. This is how these things are supposed to fail.

      • by Chrisq (894406)

        Um, no. This is how these things are supposed to fail.

        I don't know why this is modded down - its absolutely correct. Nuclear reactors are designed to be "fail safe". If a pump breaks, the system shuts down. There are probably backup pumps in case the shutdown fails too, etc.

        • Pressurized Water Reactors (PWR) are designed to fail safe using active intervention mechanisms and totally don't fail safe if the active mechanism screws up as it did in Fukushima. Personally I would dig up the long dead generals of the nuclear weapon testing era and Kill Them all again for the crime against humanity that they committed. What crime you ask? The crime of denying the world cheap and safe nuclear power.

          All of the modern worlds reactors are fundamentally unsafe PWR reactors which were designed

        • by AmiMoJo (196126) <mojo@world3AAA.net minus threevowels> on Friday September 21, 2012 @09:16AM (#41409909) Homepage

          That's not what fail safe means. In this case when the pump failed a number of things had to happen for the failure to be safe. The reactor probably SCRAMed and emergency cooling kicked in. Without those systems and careful management by staff the reactor could fail like Fukushima did.

          If it were fail safe the failure of the pump itself would have made the whole thing completely shut down into a safe and inactive state. I used to work in fire suppression for buildings and when we had a fire door that was "fail safe" that meant it was held locked shut by an electro magnet, so if the power failed for some reason it would automatically unlock and allow people to escape. In fact even if the control system stopped communicating it would open. No action by anyone or anything else required.

    • by AHuxley (892839)
      From the 1960s and 1970s, ~40 years, but dont worry they many in the US got a rubber stamp extension :)
      20-year extensions where granted, so expect to see 80 years, and then 100.
      The designed for a duty cycle is now a historical number, a better understanding of earthquakes and flooding is put to one side.
      The sub systems are also an interesting risk, you can have a great reactor, lots of diesel ready, good protected diesel generators, extra staff on site after they all get called back in - if the cooling
    • by zmooc (33175) <zmooc@nOsPaM.zmooc.net> on Friday September 21, 2012 @05:51AM (#41408873) Homepage

      As far as I'm aware (and that's not that far, but far enough to reply to this) this kind of pressurized water reactor cannot really shutdown very gracefully. Once such a reactor gets going at normal power levels for some time, it can not shutdown very quickly. The best it can do, is to stop most of the fission reaction (in this case probably a so called Emergency SCRAM). Afterward the SCRAM, the fuel rods will still be Pretty Hot and initially they will still produce about 7% of their normal power due to fission product decay. After a day that's down to about 0.4%, which in this case would still be something like 4 megawatts or so. More than enough to keep things in a closed, well-isolated reactor Really Hot for months to come.

      So, in fact, the shutdown-sequence is not graceful at all; it is an extended process that requires active cooling (and therefore working power) and supervision and will result in disaster if it is interrupted for some amount of time.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by jellomizer (103300)

      Yes, if this was a coal or natural gas plant such an issue wouldn't even make the news. But it is a Scary Nuclear Power plant then it must mean there is a HUGE Poroblem even though the fail safes all worked correctly. Because Nuclear is Scary.

      I am not saying Nuclear is Clean, Safe to Cheap to Meter. But really it is one of our better power sources, and we should be sure that we support nuclear and support proper regulation on this energy source as it has a lot of long term dangerous elements to it.

      Stop f

      • by AmiMoJo (196126)

        I am not saying Nuclear is Clean, Safe to Cheap to Meter. But really it is one of our better power sources, and we should be sure that we support nuclear and support proper regulation on this energy source as it has a lot of long term dangerous elements to it.

        This incident just illustrates the point that nuclear isn't well regulated enough and probably never will be. TMI is an old design that should be been shut down a long time ago and replaced. That would cost a lot of money though so instead the license just keeps getting extended.

        At this point someone will usually suggest thorium as the solution to all our problems, but the economic reality of building such a plant makes it impossible. No-one is willing to pay the cost, not investors, companies, the governme

    • Yes. It's called a "fail safe."

      In the event of a failure (coolant pump stops working), the system remains safe (automatic shutdown).

      Working as designed.

  • by Joe_Dragon (2206452) on Friday September 21, 2012 @12:55AM (#41407785)

    Some one in 7G messed up

  • Add it all up (Score:5, Insightful)

    by medcalf (68293) on Friday September 21, 2012 @12:56AM (#41407793) Homepage
    Embassy attacks. Crap economy. Foreign policy humiliation. Three Mile Island. Am I the only one who didn't like 1979 the first time, and don't want a replay?
    • by tehcyder (746570) on Friday September 21, 2012 @05:12AM (#41408759) Journal
      At least the music was better back then. Now get off my lawn.
    • by Sarten-X (1102295)

      Am I the only one who didn't like 1979 the first time, and don't want a replay?

      As far as politics goes, yes.

      The 50-year-old politicians in office now were 20 in 1979, and now see their world history through the rose-colored glasses of their youth. Without the understanding of what led to problems before, the politicians and policy-makers blunder onward, in blissful ignorance of upcoming crises. Last time these issues came up, everything seemed so simple (as everything usually does to twenty-somethings) that the prerequisite conditions were ignored. Now those conditions have returned,

  • Nice shutdown, but I still think we need to move to more powerful passive safety devices. Using water as a coolant is awesome, but still prone to failure. Solid conduction, on the other hand...

    • by jamstar7 (694492)
      TMI is ancient technology. Nobody's built one of these things since TMI went online. They built using newer safer designs.

      Of course, getting authorisation to shut down, decommission, and dismantle a reactor takes almost as much time, effort, legal fees, and money as building the damned thing in the first place. It's on the order of 4 acts of $DIETY and an act of Congress.
  • It's like 1979 all over again. I told you Carter would be a best case scenario for Obaaaaama

  • the nuclear regulatory comission? ill wait on the IAEA, thank you...

    er, wait...the IAEA doesnt investigate reactor faults in the United States. Because apparently american reactors just work.

    • by tehcyder (746570)

      Because apparently american reactors just work.

      They're designed by Apple? God help us all.

      • Seriously could you imagine the horror? Function, safety and ease of repair sacrificed left and right without a second thought, in the name of aesthetics and "ease of use?"

        It would make Chernobyl look like an engineering masterpiece.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    What is this? Come on America -are you turning into a load of cheese-eating surrender monkeys? The US should take pride in releasing the best and biggest cloud of radiation money can buy.

  • Pansies (Score:5, Insightful)

    by smooth wombat (796938) on Friday September 21, 2012 @08:24AM (#41409485) Homepage Journal

    I live within the 10 mile "danger" zone (cue Kenny Loggins) and lived through the initial incident in 79. In fact, I was out delivering papers every day during the entire incident.

    This is nothing to be mentioned on a tech site. It has no relevance whatsoever other than the fact that the system did what it was supposed to.

    Stop the panicking and hyperbole about how bad nuclear energy is. Compared to the amount of health related issues coal has produced, nuclear energy ranks about as dangerous as rabbit attacks

    • about as dangerous as rabbit attacks

      That is not an ordinary rabbit ... 'tis the most foul, cruel and bad-tempered thing you ever set eyes on. He's got huge, sharp-- he can leap about-- look at the bones!

  • by J'raxis (248192) on Friday September 21, 2012 @11:46AM (#41411765) Homepage

    Why is this a story?

    Because a simple mechanical device failed? Wow, that's news. Because the safety measured at the plant functioned exactly as designed? Yup, that's certainly news. Because the residents in the area heard a loud noise? Stop the presses!

    Or because when anything happens at a nuclear power plant---including it functioning exactly as designed---the anti-nuclear luddites and other assorted fearmongers leap on the (non-)story in order to push their agenda?

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