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Main Yankee: Safety problems and outside operation management

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#465
24/01/1997
Article

(January 24, 1997) United States: The 24-year-old 940-MW Maine Yankee reactor has a troubled history of safety concerns. In 1995, Maine Yankee was down all year for the very expensive steam generator sleeving and it spent all of 1996 under an Nuclear Regulatory Commission-imposed 10 percent power derating due to safety questions. This was imposed in the beginning of 1996 but only reported by the NRC in the fall of that year. Full power would only be permitted when several safety issues were resolved.

(465.4618) WISE-Amsterdam -Last December the operator Main Yankee Atomic Power Co. (Myapc) said it will spend an extra U.S.$27 million in 1997 to improve peformance and safety. Operating costs for 1997 are to be 27 percent higher than originally planned. In later years costs will increase 10 percent due to extra employees.

According to Charles Frizzle, then president of Myapc, the company agreed with NRC that economic pressures and a complacent workforce caused performance and safety margins to detoriate. He denied that the ownership structure is the cause of the problem. Myapc is owned by 10 entities. The shareholdersþ structure resulted in complex financing matters for investing and revenues. Myapc does not retain earnings and does not set aside funds for unexpected events. So the 10 owners, often on short notice, are asked for investments. The unit was shut down on December 6 when electrical cables were found to lack the required separation. The utility expanded its review to research other reactor protection system cables. On December 11 and 12, the plant faced an unplanned release of radioactivity. About 0.25 Curie (9.5 billion bequerel) escaped through a vent stack, being four to five times more than originally planned for release. The source of radioactivity was unclear.

In January the shutdown was extended to at least mid-February, for further inspections on the integrity of the 217 fuel rod assemblies. Openings in four to six fuel rods may be expected. Through these holes, water can enter the fuel and radioactivity can escape. A slight increase in iodine in the cooling water was detected, but within limits, Myapc said.

After the forced resignation of president Frizzle, announced on December 20, Myapc made so-called nuclear history by selecting an outside company to manage the plant. The utility would be the first U.S. plant to be turned over to an outside operator. The New Orleans-based Entergy Corp. which has been hired, operates already five other plants. According to a spokesman of Entergy, this will be a new trend to solve economic problems and will result in only a few companies operating almost all nuclear plants. Bill Linnell, spokesman of Maine Safe Energy, warns that Main Yankee þis still a decrepit old plantþ.

Sources:

  • Nucleonics Week, 19 December 1996
  • Reuter, 10 December 1996, 3 January 1997
  • UPI, 8 January 1997

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