SCE&G says nuclear plant cracks repaired

But V.C. Summer reactor will eventually need new vessel head

12/13/2012 12:00 AM

12/12/2012 11:52 PM

Workers have finished repairing cracks in SCE&G’s nuclear power plant northwest of Columbia after discovering problems at the 30-year-old site during a planned inspection this fall.

In announcing the power company had restarted the reactor to supply power, SCE&G said Tuesday the repairs were made successfully at the V.C. Summer plant in Fairfield County.

“Throughout the outage, we stayed true to our principles of doing the ‘right thing’ to assure we will have a safe, reliable plant,” said Dan Gatlin, SCE&G vice president of nuclear operations in a news release.

Joey Ledford, a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in Atlanta, said his agency had signed off on the repairs at the site, which is about 25 miles northwest of the capital city.

But Tom Clements, an anti-nuclear activist in Columbia, said fixing cracks in the reactor vessel head doesn’t resolve long-term issues. The entire reactor vessel head needs replacing, he said.

“The whole issue of aging and cracking of the head is still a problem faced by the company,’’ he said. “They really do need to think about ordering a new head and replacing it.’’

A reactor vessel head is a steel dome that sits atop a room surrounding the core of the nuclear plant. Fuel rods are inserted through a series of small holes in the dome to control atomic reactions.

Among other things, the vessel head prevents cooling water from escaping. That’s important to help prevent a nuclear meltdown. The reactor head is a smaller dome beneath the power plant’s larger containment dome.

In this case, SCE&G discovered flaws in four of the welded holes in the reactor vessel head. SCE&G’s work should resolve any safety questions, the company says.

Rhonda O’Banion, a spokeswoman for SCE&G, said the power company eventually plans to replace the reactor vessel head, but she did not say when that would occur. For now, the repairs “ensure that we can continue operating the plant safely for the foreseeable future.’’

“These repairs were pre-emptive, allowing us to make V.C. Summer even safer,’’ O’Banion said in an email to The State.

The repairs involved welding on the four cracked holes in the vessel head. The company used standard industry repair methods, she said.

SCE&G, with about 670,000 electrical customers, is one of South Carolina’s largest power companies. Headquartered in Cayce, the company receives most of its energy from coal and from the Fairfield County nuclear plant. It operates the nearly 1,000-megawatt nuclear plant jointly with state-owned Santee Cooper.

The companies now are building two additional reactors at the Fairfield site after receiving NRC approval — one of only two nuclear sites in the United States with the green light to build new reactors.

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