"Unusual Events" at Nuclear Power Plants: A Timeline
Moniak Research and Information Services -
firstname.lastname@example.org, Aiken, SC, 15 August 2003
By Don Moniak
August 14, 2003 was an historic day for the nuclear
power industry, as nine nuclear reactors at seven power plants in New
York, Ohio, Michigan, and New Jersey were forced to shut down, and another
NPP already in shut-down mode lost power during the largest and most
severe electricity blackout in U.S. history. To date, a total of 9 NPPs
and 11 reactors have reported significant impacts that generally rank
as a low-level emergencies.
While the rest of the world described the blackout
as a massive power failure, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC),
in perhaps its most classic understatement to date, termed the widespread
loss of power as "instabilities" in the electrical transmission
grid, while assuring people that All plants are in a safe condition,
using their emergency diesel generators where appropriate. (1)
The Commission elaborated on the issue today, stating
that "Safety systems at all the shut-down plants operated successfully,
and plants stabilized in a safe shut-down condition. Adequate safety
was maintained at all times."
All seven plants issued an "unusual" event
report, which the Commission described as "the lowest of four classes
of emergency, and means an incident is in process or has occurred indicating
a potential degradation of plant safety. No releases of radioactive
material requiring off-site response or monitoring have occurred or
The Commission neglected to mention that had the
unexpected occurred, and a full-blown higher-level emergency developed,
the emergency sirens were not working at most plants--meaning that a
safety system was not operating correctly. The Indian Point NPP in New
York also suffered additional complications. This will not prevent the
Commission from issuing glowering reports that the plants successfully
prevented a major catastrophe--which in the nuclear industry is the
primary standard for "safe" conditions.
Following is the timeline of events as published
by the NRC in its "Event Notification Report for August 15, 2003."
All times are Eastern Daylight Time, and indicate time of report, not
of actual event--in general a 30-60 minute difference.
09:10 - The Kewaunee Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) in
Wisconsin, which did not suffer any outages, did report that, "all
13 Kewaunee County sirens had a communications problem that rendered
them out of service. The percent siren coverage population lost is 68.52%."
16:33 - The Perry NPP in Ohio declared an emergency
unusual event, stating: "Automatic reactor scram due to a loss
of offsite power. All [control] rods fully inserted. Supplying power
to vital buses via emergency diesel generators. All system operating
16:39 to 16:50 - The infamous Indian Point NPP in
New York reported its two reactors having suffered an "Automatic
reactor scram due to a loss of offsite power. All rods fully inserted.
Supplying power to vital buses via emergency diesel generators. All
systems operating properly." The event was later updated, with
a declaration that "RPS Actuation (loss of flow) due to loss of
site power. Auto actuation of AFW in response to the unit trips. Auto
Start and Load of Emergency diesel generators in response to the loss
of off-site power."
16:46 - The Ginna NPP in Upstate New York reported
an "Automatic reactor trip due to a loss of offsite power. All
rods fully inserted into the core. All emergency systems operated as
16:54 - Davis Besse NPP in Ohio, which is shut down
due to numerous safety problems, (2) declared an unusual event due to
loss of offsite power, stating "All systems operated as expected.
Decay Heat pumps are available if needed."
17:10 - While it did not shut down, the Palisades
NPP in Michigan reported that, "At 1607 EDT a significant electrical
power grid disturbance occurred resulting in a momentary drop in voltage
at the site, including both 2400 VAC safety busses 1C and 1D. The reduced
voltage on the 2400VAC safety busses caused both emergency diesel generators
to auto start, but not load. The plant is stable at pre-event conditions."
So while plants that did lose power described "grid instability,"
the plant that did not lose power described a significant grid disturbance--a
relatively strong set of words.
17:15 - The Nine-mile NPP, Reactor 1, in Upstate
New York reported "Automatic reactor scram due to a loss of offsite
power. All rods fully inserted into the core. All emergency core cooling
systems are operating properly and the emergency diesel generators are
17:17 - The FitzPatrick NPP in New York reported,
"Automatic reactor scram due to a loss of offsite power. All rods
fully inserted into the core. All emergency core cooling systems and
the emergency diesel generators are operating properly."
17:34 - The Nine-mile NPP, Reactor 2, in Upstate
New York reported, "The plant lost off site power due to grid disturbance
which resulted in a reactor trip from 100% power. The NOUE was declared
because of loss of off site power was greater than 15 minutes."
18:16 - The Oyster Creek NPP in New Jersey reported
a "Reactor scram from 100% due to off site electrical grid instability,
but did not lose off site power. Reactor conditions at 1730 are normal
reactor water level, reactor pressure 850-1000psig, MSIV's closed and
all recirc pumps are off and reactor is in hot shutdown with all rods
18:49 - Indian Point NPP reported that "Emergency
sirens lost in four counties due to a loss of power. At approximately
1830 hours power starting to be returned to the sirens."
20:07 - Ginna NPP updated its situation, stating
that it "Received grid disturbance that caused reactor trip at
1611. The trip occurred due to over temperature delta set point being
reached from load swings experienced on the generator. Subsequently
in the recovery process, the Auxiliary Feedwater Pumps auto started
from a signal from the Main Feedwater Pumps being secured. As a result
of grid problems it was noted that Ginna did not meet the required number
of emergency sirens (greater than 25% of sirens without
20:08 - The Fermi NPP in Michigan reported, "The
reactor scrammed from 100% power due to fluctuations occurring on the
main generator and a loss of off site power. All rods fully inserted
and all MSIV's closed. Reactor level is being maintained in the normal
band of 173 to 214 inches using RCIC. Reactor pressure is being controlled
via SRV's in lo-lo set mode between 905 and 1017 psig. Isolations occurred
as expected for level 2 and level 3. HPCI and RCIC started on level
21:08 - Ginna NPP "exited" the unusual
event condition after restoration of off-site power.
23:40 - More problems emerged at Indian Point NPP
Unit 3, which reported, "RPS Actuation (loss of flow) due to loss
of offsite power. Auto actuation of AFW in response to the unit trips.
Auto start & load of Emergency Diesel Generators in response to
the loss of offsite power. Unit 3 also experienced a second AFW auto
start during the event. Unit 3 also entered Tech Spec LCO 3.0.3 for
loss of two offsite circuits and one EDG inoperable. #31 EDG was declared
inoperable when its associated Fuel oil storage tank inventory decreased
August 15, 2003
00:35 - Fitzpatrick NPP reported that, "Reactor
vessel pressure is 93 psig. Plant electrical loads have been shifted
back to offsite power and the EDGs were secured. The licensee exited
the Unusual Event at 0039. The licensee tentatively plans to remain
shutdown for a brief period to do some maintenance work."
01:45 - Nine Mile NPP units "exited" unusual
event status when power was restored.
02:10 - Indian Point "exited" the unusual
event "upon confirmation of a stable off-site power."
09:00: The NRC reported that "offsite power
was restored to FitzPatrick, Ginna, Indian Point 2 and 3, and Nine Mile
Point 1 and 2, and they exited the unusual event. The remaining plants
[Perry, Davis-Besse, and Fermi, the Michigan and Ohio plants] continue
to have onsite backup power." (3) No indication has been provided
as to why Fermi reported the problem nearly four hours after the actual
11:00 - The NRC reported "no schedules have
been established for restart of the affected nuclear power plants."
The NRC's daily NPP status report showed all ten reactors
14:00 - Ditto. Perry, Davis-Besse, and Fermi still
lacking off-site power supplies. (4)
Twelve non-nuclear power plants also shut down during
the blackout, but unlike the nuclear plants these did not threaten regional
populations and lanscapes with massive radiation exposure IF things
had gotten worse. The NRC also failed to identify the current status
of the non-nuclear plants.
Another information ommission is the impact the
grid failure had on other northeast NPPs, as well as Canadian NPPs whose
failures would greatly impact U.S. soil. The blackout included parts
of New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan,
Vermont, Maryland, and the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec.
No operational NPPs in Connecticut (Millstone 2
and 3) , Massachusetts (Pilgrim 1), Maryland (Calvert Cliffs 1, 2),
Pennsylvania (Beaver Valley 1, 2; Limerick 1, 2; Peach Bottom 2, 3;
Susquehanna 1, 2; and Three-Mile Island 1), New Hampshire (Seabrook
1), and Vermont (Vermont Yankee 1) reported any unusual events to the
NRC. In addition, the D.C. Cook (Units 1,2) in Michigan; Hope Creek
1 and Salem Units 1 and 2 in New Jersey did not report any events. However,
this only means that if there were disturbances at these plants, they
were not of sufficient severity or importance to meet the Commission's
lax reporting threshold.
(1) NRC News Release. August 14, 2003.
The plants were:
Indian Point 2 and 3 (in New York)
Perry (in Ohio)
Fermi (in Michigan)
Ginna (in New York)
FitzPatrick (in New York)
Oyster Creek (in N.J.)
Nine Mile Point 1 and 2 (in New York)
Davis-Besse, Ohio. (already in shut down for "other reasons"
see footnote 3)
(3) NRC News Release. August 15, 2003.
(4) NRC. Frequently Asked Questions About the Loss
of the Electric Power Grid on August 14, 2003. August 15, 2003.
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