Nuclear Roulette

Top scientists recently told governmental nuclear power
regulators that floating paint chips have a one-in-three chance of
clogging a key pump and causing disaster at an American nuclear
power plant by 2007. The response: fix the problem by 2008.

As Matt Bivens reports in The Nation, the study
conducted last year by the Los Alamos National Laboratory looked at
69 of the nation’s 103 nuclear power reactors and concluded that a
serious accident relating to a clogged ‘containment sump’ was ‘very

‘I don’t see any issue out there that’s more safety significant
than this one,’ says David Lochbaum, a nuclear safety expert with
the Union of Concerned Scientists.

A steady flow of water cools nuclear power reactors so that they
don’t overheat and melt down. If pipes carrying water into the
reactor leak onto the floor — with resulting overheating from lack
of coolant – containment sumps suck the water back into the system
to cool the reactor. However, loss-of-coolant accidents can be
rough, flaying paint and insulation off nearby equipment, and
clogging pumps that are vital to the back-up system for cooling the

That’s what apparently occurred at the Davis-Besse plant in
Toledo, Ohio, which reported a malfunctioning containment sump in
July 2001, Bivens notes. The reactor was saved from a meltdown by a
three-sixteenths-inch stainless steel lining. The plant has since
repaired the damage, but others – mostly notably the Vogtle plant
in Georgia and the Indian Point plant in New York — are similarly
malfunctioning, according to Los Alamos scientists.

Amazingly, the problem could be solved in less than a year.
However, the American public will just have to wait and wonder
while the current plan — to have everything fixed by December of
2007 — is running just a tiny bit behind schedule.
Joel Stonington

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