NRC: Diablo explosion was ‘catastrophic failure’
August 21, 2008
By KAREN VELIE
A senior official of the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) said today “an explosion” which occurred August 18 at Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant was a life-threatening “catastrophic failure.”
No radioactive leaks were reported, however, at the South County facility.
“It was an explosion,” Michael Peck, an NRC senior resident inspector, told UncoveredSLO.com. “Had it happened during business hours, someone in the vicinity would have risked injury. The explosion propelled shrapnel into offices.”
NRC spokesperson Scott Burnell described the explosion as “energetic.”
“From a nuclear safety prospective, it was a minor event,” said Burnell. “From a man on the street prospective, it was a very energetic event. It is a good thing no one was injured.”
PG&E officials have described the incident as a “fire.”
Federal regulators confirmed the explosion shattered windows, blasted debris into administration building offices, and scorched the exterior of the service air building. A transformer exploded and burst into flames shortly before midnight. It took fire crews approximately 30 minutes to extinguish the blaze.
One of Diablo Canyon’s two reactors remains shut down. There was no danger of a radiation leak, both federal and PG&E officials agreed.
In their original reports to the NRC, PG&E officials at Diablo claimed no damage to other buildings had occurred.
“We filed it as a fire and originally reported no damage,” said PG&E spokesperson Sharon Gavin. “When we first filed, the fire was still going on.”
Gavin said the utility “is taking this as seriously as it should be taken. We are looking at steps to protect all of our people.”
When transformers fail, a reportedly common event, the oil used for coolant catches on fire, though under normal circumstances the transformer’s fire suppression system steps in.
“All transformers have fire suppression systems that work automatically,” Peck added. “One possibility is internal fault caused catastrophic failure like this.”
NRC officials are gathering information to make a determination into the cause of the event. Officials said a preliminary investigation into the incident will take about 30 days.
“First we determine what occurred and what may have contributed to the more energetic than usual event at the transformer,” Burnell said. “We determine if anything was done incorrectly. Then we determine a fine, or take action to enforce regulations.”