Federal authorities have issued a significant safety warning concerning a nuclear facility in South Carolina, as cracks have once again been detected in a backup emergency fuel line.
Over the past two decades, small cracks have been identified multiple times in the pipes responsible for transporting fuel to emergency generators that supply cooling water to the V.C. Summer plant near Columbia should an electrical outage occur. The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has reported these incidents.
Last week, a preliminary “yellow” warning was issued by NRC to Dominion Energy, the plant’s owner. This warning represents the second-highest severity level and has only been issued seven times nationwide since 2009, according to David Lochbaum, nuclear power expert, who reviewed federal regulatory records for The State newspaper.
The first crack was discovered in a diesel fuel pipe in 2003, and subsequent cracks have emerged in similar pipes. A minor diesel fuel leak escalated during a 24-hour system test in November, according to NRC records.
The repeated problems prompted the NRC to issue the preliminary yellow warning. Dominion Energy will have the opportunity to explain the issues, as the commission’s ruling is not final, as stated by utility spokesperson Darryl Huger in an email.
Dominion Energy has already initiated plans to enhance the reliability of the backup system. Like all nuclear reactors, multiple backup systems are in place in case of component failures, according to Huger.
He added, “With a commitment to continued safe operations, we inspect and maintain our generator and related components. We will update the NRC on our future strategy to further enhance our diesel generators.”
The V.C. Summer plant has changed ownership over the years, with SCANA initially building and commencing operations in 1984. However, due to significant cost overruns, SCANA abandoned plans to construct two additional reactors in 2017 and sold the plant to Dominion Energy.
Dominion Energy recently applied to renew the nuclear plant’s license for 40 years.
Longtime nuclear safety advocate Tom Clements emphasized that the issues with the pipes should result in heightened regulatory scrutiny. He stated in an email, “This incident serves as a wake-up call to analyze all such systems before a license-renewal determination can be issued.”