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FRIDAY, MAY 25, 2007
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Unit 1 shut down after fluid leak
Accidental discharge not radioactive; 2 workers sent to hospital as precaution

By Eric Fleischauer
eric@decaturdaily.com 340-2435

Browns Ferry Unit 1 was shut down Thursday morning after the accidental discharge of 600 gallons of non-radioactive electro-hydraulic control fluid.

The hydraulic fluid contacted two employees, who were taken to Athens-Limestone Hospital as a precautionary measure. The employees were treated and released. They were back at work later in the day.

The leak, at 2:11 a.m., was in the part of the plant that converts steam to electricity. It did not impact the nuclear reactor.

According to a report the Tennessee Valley Authority filed with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, workers discovered a one-drop-per-second leak of the fluid from a turbine valve. When they tried to repair the leak, the piping separated, causing the larger discharge.

TVA shut the reactor down manually. A shutdown, called a "scram," is accomplished by fully inserting the control rods in the reactor vessel. The control rods absorb all neutrons, thus stopping the nuclear fission process.

TVA's Browns Ferry spokesman, Terry Johnson, said Unit 1 would remain shut down while workers repair the valve problem and perform additional tests. He could not predict when the restart would continue.

Unit 1 was in the midst of power ascension tests at the time of the accident. In those tests, the reactor's power is increased gradually while testing takes place.

Dave Lochbaum, nuclear safety director of the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the leak as described in the NRC report presented no community safety issues and no risk of radioactive release.

"Obviously TVA would have preferred to find this problem before the plant restarted, but it's hard to do that because some parts of the plant don't get challenged until the plant comes up to temperature and pressure," Lochbaum said. "It doesn't indicate they were negligent."

"Once they had the leak, they took the right action," he continued. "They shut down to fix it rather than ignore it or limp along with it."

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