2 Incidents Reported at Nuclear Plant Near Lake Anna

By Chris L. Jenkins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 10, 2007

Two equipment failures at the North Anna Power Station about 80 miles south of Washington have been reported to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission within the past 10 days, agency officials said yesterday.

In the most recent incident, part of a cable that sends electricity to one of three transformers at the nuclear power facility failed, automatically triggering an emergency diesel generator, said officials for the NRC and for Dominion Power, which owns and operates the plant.

Agency and company officials said that during the malfunction, which occurred early Wednesday, the plant maintained full power at all times. They said the incident never endangered the public.

The transformers provide energy to special electrical circuits and pumps at the station's water intake system from adjacent Lake Anna, said Jim Norvelle, a spokesman for Dominion Power.

Lake Anna is a popular second-home and vacation spot for Washington area residents.

Norvelle said NRC inspectors are looking into the incident along with company officials, but he said investigators are unsure what caused the malfunction.

"The unit did not stop operating at 100 percent power," Norvelle said. "All systems responded as expected and as they are required to do."

A smaller problem occurred Feb. 27, when a special reserve safety system briefly failed. Repairs were completed four hours later, Norvelle said. Investigators are still trying to determine the cause of that failure. Both incidents occurred in the power plant's Unit 2, officials said.

The incidents were reported in keeping with the NRC's strict rules about communicating failures at the plants it monitors.

"In both cases, these were of very low safety significance," said Ken Clark, a spokesman for the NRC in Atlanta. Referring to the latest incident, he added: "It didn't cause the plant to shut down, and it didn't impact operations of the unit."

NRC officials said that such incidents are rare at the Louisa County plant, which they said is safe.

"This type of cable failure is not routine; it's not normal," said Gene Guthrie, a branch chief for the NRC's Virginia operations.

Open since 1978, the plant, which sits on 1,000 acres about 50 miles northwest of Richmond, can generate enough electricity to power more than 450,000 houses, officials said.

The incidents come as Dominion continues to explore the expensive and time-consuming process of building two more reactors on the site, plans that have generated concern from some residents and anti-nuclear activists.

Others argue that the plant is a boon to the economy because it contributes millions in annual tax revenue to the county. The plant provides 900 jobs, the largest employer in Louisa.

Residents recently participated in a forum held by state officials to gauge feelings about the possible expansion. A final safety evaluation and an environmental impact statement for the expansion permit were issued late last year, according to state records.

Norvelle said that a final environmental impact statement found that adding reactors at the plant would not present significant environmental concerns. The report also said that the NRC's staff recommends that the agency issue early site permits for proposed North Anna Units 3 and 4. The company must still obtain final approval from other NRC officials.

But Dominion officials said yesterday that they have not decided whether they want to build more reactors at North Anna; for now, they just want the option to do so.

The earliest a new reactor would be operational would be 2015, Norvelle said.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company