Nuclear mishaps

July 1981
A flood of low-level radioactive wastewater in the sub-basement at Nine Mile Point’s Unit 1 (in New York state) caused approximately 150 55-gallon drums of high-level waste to overturn, some of which released their highly radioactive contents. Some 50,000 gallons of low-level radioactive water were subsequently dumped into Lake Ontario to make room for the cleanup. The discharge was reported to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, but the sub-basement contamination was not. A report leaked to the press 8 years later resulted in a study which found that high levels of radiation persisted in the still flooded facility.

The Critical Mass Energy Project of Public Citizen, Inc. reported that 84,322 power plant workers were exposed to radiation in 1982, up from 82,183 the previous year.

25 January 1982
A steam generator pipe broke at the Rochester Gas & Electric Company’s Ginna plant near Rochester, New York. Fifteen thousand gallons of radioactive coolant spilled onto the plant floor, and small amounts of radioactive steam escaped into the air.

15-16 January 1983
Nearly 208,000 gallons of water with low-level radioactive contamination was accidentally dumped into the Tennesee River at the Browns Ferry power plant.

25 February 1983
A catastrophe at the Salem 1 reactor in New Jersey was averted by just 90 seconds when the plant was shut down manually, following the failure of automatic shutdown systems to act properly. The same automatic systems had failed to respond in an incident three days before, and other problems plagued this plant as well, such as a 3,000 gallon leak of radioactive water in June 1981 at the Salem 2 reactor, a 23,000 gallon leak of “mildly” radioactive water (which splashed onto 16 workers) in February 1982, and radioactive gas leaks in March 1981 and September 1982 from Salem 1.

9 December 1986
A feedwater pipe ruptured at the Surry Unit 2 facility in Virginia, causing 8 workers to be scalded by a release of hot water and steam. Four of the workers later died from their injuries. In addition, water from the sprinkler systems caused a malfunction of the security system, preventing personnel from entering the facility. This was the second time that an incident at the Surry 2 unit resulted in fatal injuries due to scalding [see also 27 July 1972].

It was reported that there were 2,810 accidents in U.S. commercial nuclear power plants in 1987, down slightly from the 2,836 accidents reported in 1986, according to a report issued by the Critical Mass Energy Project of Public Citizen, Inc.

28 May 1993
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission released a warning to the operators of 34 nuclear reactors around the country that the instruments used to measure levels of water in the reactor could give false readings during routine shutdowns and fail to detect important leaks. The problem was first bought to light by an engineer at Northeast Utilities in Connecticut who had been harassed for raising safety questions. The flawed instruments at boiling-water reactors designed by General Electric utilize pipes which were prone to being blocked by gas bubbles; a failure to detect falling water levels could have resulted, potentially leading to a meltdown.

15 February 2000
New York’s Indian Point II power plant vented a small amount of radioactive steam when a an aging steam generator ruptured. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission initially reported that no radioactive material was released, but later changed their report to say that there was a leak, but not of a sufficient amount to threaten public safety.

6 March 2002
Workers discovered a foot-long cavity eaten into the reactor vessel head at the Davis-Besse nuclear plant in Ohio. Borated water had corroded the metal to a 3/16 inch stainless steel liner which held back over 80,000 gallons of highly pressurized radioactive water. In April 2005 the Nuclear Regulatory Commission proposed fining plant owner First Energy 5.4 million dollars for their failure to uncover the problem sooner (similar problems plaguing other plants were already known within the industry), and also proposed banning System Engineer Andrew Siemaszko from working in the industry for five years due to his falsifying reactor vessel logs. As of this writing the fine and suspension were under appeal.

Nov 2005
High tritium levels, the result of leaking pipes, were discovered to have contaminated groundwater immediately adjacent to the Braidwood Generating Station in Braceville, Illinois.

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