Radioactive leak posed no threat, SCE&G says

Staff Writer
Radioactive water that leaked from a fractured pipe at the V.C. Summer nuclear power plant in Fairfield County posed no danger to people, operators said.

A 4-inch hairline crack at a weld three feet from the reactor was discovered last week during the plant's regular 18-month inspection.

A large quantity of boron, which mixes with the system's cooling waters, was found on the plant floor, according to SCE&G, principal owner and operator of the plant.

Boron absorbs neutrons and helps regulate the reactor's fission process.

But the reactor is in a containment dome, shielded from the environment, said Brian Duncan, a South Carolina Electric & Gas Co. spokesman.

"There was no indication of a leak prior to bringing it off line, no indication of any leak while we were operating," Duncan said.

Tests reveal that no similar welds have failed in the plant, he said, though more comprehensive ultrasonic tests will follow.

Located in Jenkinsville, 25 miles northwest of Columbia, the Summer plant began producing electricity in 1982.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which oversees operation of the nation's commercial nuclear power plants, said it notified other plants about the problem as a matter of standard procedure.

Local anti-nuclear activists questioned the implications of the cracked pipe. "This is such a genie we've let out the bottle," said Susan Summer of the Peace Resource Center, a nuclear watchdog group.

"If it has come up with this plant, will it happen at other places? Is it like our bodies, we wear out?"

Brett Bursey of Lexington challenged the quality of work at V.C. Summer during its licensing phase in the late 1970s. "Welders at the plant said at the time that shoddy welding practices were going on," he said.

Duncan said the NRC checked out those claims thoroughly.

Roger Hannah of the NRC in Atlanta said the agency didn't "want to address the quality of a weld until we complete an inspection."

Both Duncan and Bursey agree that the Summer plant has one of the best safety records in the country.

The Summer plant was expected to remain closed until mid-November to complete the inspection, but Duncan said it may not reopen until early December.

The NRC must approve any repairs to the plant before a restart order is issued. The plant employs about 1,000 workers .