We've seen the ugly photos and videos of Exxon's tar sands pipeline break north of Little Rock, which has utterly trashed a rather nice suburban community and closed a section of Interstate 40 on Good Friday. Yet the awful oily mess fouling homes, yards and waterways isn't the the only awful thing facing residents of central/west-central Arkansas this week.
About halfway between Little Rock and Fort Smith along I-40 sits Russellville. Russellville boasts some hills, a huge and beautiful man-made lake (Dardanelle), and a 2-unit nuclear plant designated Arkansas Nuclear One. The event, which occurred Easter morning at 7:50 am local time and killed one plant worker, injured 8 with 4 of those 'serious' injuries, is described in the NRC Event Notification Report for April 1, 2013 thusly:
NOTIFICATION OF UNUSUAL EVENT DECLARED DUE TO A BREAKER EXPLOSION IN THE PROTECTED AREAAh, the equipment crane failed, dropped the 500 ton stator, crushed some people, knocked out a pipe that flooded the turbine building, which caused an entire electrical circuit board to explode and caused a total loss of offsite power. At first they claimed it was just unit 1, and that everything was cool even though the steam loops for both units were venting outside containment via the Main Steam Dump Valves, releasing 'minimal' radiation into the environment. Then they admitted that unit 2 had lost all off site power as well, which caused the reactor to scram from 100% power. Along with a loss of primary system circulation. Heat exchange primary to secondary is maintained using the dump valves, and now there is talk of the loss of ability to isolate the turbines - which will compromise cooling efforts somewhat. They say convection cooling is operational at unit 2, informing us that for some reason the EDGs aren't running the reactor coolant pumps for residual heat removal. Hmmm. Oh... and no, there are NO circulation pumps providing cooling to either of the overloaded spent fuel pools.
At 7:50 [CDT] on 3/31/13, during movement of the Unit 1 Main Turbine Generator Stator (~500 tons), the Unit 1 turbine temporary lift device failed. This caused a loss of all off site power on Unit 1. The ANO unit 1 No. 1 and No. 2 EDG [Emergency Diesel Generator] have started and are supplying A-3 4160V switch gear and A-4 4160V switchgear. P-4A Service Water pump and P-4C Service Water pump has been verified running. Unit 1 has entered [procedures] 1202.007 - Degraded Power, 1203.028 - Loss of Decay Heat, and 1203.050 - Spent Fuel Emergencies. Unit 1 is in MODE 6.
KUOZ at the University of the Ozarks interviewed a 30+-year plant worker on Monday who said the accident is the worst thing he's seen in all those years. Top Entergy officials are claiming that "...the building, the plant, is in a very stable configuration. [...] the structure is stable." Informing the interested Russellville area residents who have heard stories from plant workers that no, dropping the 500-ton rod and having it roll around enough to crush humans, shear big water pipes and explode electrical stations didn't actually do enough damage to the turbine building structure to worry about it collapsing. How reassuring.
And just to back up the requisite reassurances from Entergy and the NRC that of course no radiation was getting out, air detection teams have been deployed. That's those helicopters with detector probes attached that fly to and fro over nuclear plants dumping radioisotopes into the air after an accident. Like they did at Three Mile Island long years ago, and haven't bothered doing since at any facility inside the U.S. While the officials play as if this is SOP and 'proves' there's the usual no [immediate] danger to the general public, low-flying choppers buzzing around measuring radiation in the air over your house isn't the most reassuring response ever.
Finally, although Entergy and ANO employees have posted evacuation signs around town over the last couple of days reminding residents of their designated routes of escape when/if they get the word, that word has not yet been spoken. No doubt because the moment it is spoken, Entergy becomes corporately liable for the full costs of all disruptions to the residents and businesses within the evacuation limit, and in this country heavily subsidized nukes do not feel obligated to pay real money out of their own collective pocket for the dire consequences of their nifty machines when they melt, blow up and/or burp all over what used to be perfectly nice American countryside locations.
Here is where it's probably a good idea to note that all official (and several unofficial) investigations of the 1979 meltdown at Three Mile Island concluded that ALL actual and potential health effects resulting from that meltdown and affecting citizens living in the plume of radioactivity released from the facility were directly caused by the 'stress' of knowing an accident had occurred. Who knew that 'stress' causes thyroid cancer, bone, organ and blood cancers?!? Leading of course to the Number One Lesson Learned by all responsible nukes and nuke regulators:
Don't tell 'em about it.Good luck to all hapless citizens of Russellville and surrounding areas. If it were me, the helicopters alone would inform me that it's time to visit someone in another state for awhile. But that's mostly because I already know they won't tell any 'stressful' truths in time for me and my neighbors to avoid absorbing enough radioactive crap to die from it at some point. Others are not as cynical as I am, and who knows? Believing with all one's heart in the absolutely honest godliness of all things nuclear just might work as well as distance and shielding to protect against radiation damage to sensitive biological organisms.
...but probably not.
UPDATE: Kossack cotterperson offers a link to some devastating photos from inside the plant that show graphically why the question of structural integrity arose. Thanks, cp.