Tuesday, February 7, 2012

SAN ONOFRE: Worker at nuclear plant fell into reactor pool last week


SAN ONOFRE: Worker at nuclear plant fell into reactor pool last week

BY PAUL SISSON psisson@nctimes.com | Posted: Friday, February 3, 2012 5:00 am

A worker at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station fell inside the plant's Unit 2 reactor pool last week, but officials determined he did not suffer significant radiation exposure.

Southern California Edison spokesman Gil Alexander said Thursday that the worker, who is employed by a private contractor assigned to replace the reactor’s vessel head, "momentarily lost his balance" and fell into the pool Jan. 27 while leaning over to retrieve a flashlight.

“He was wearing all of the appropriate safety equipment, including a life preserver vest. We immediately began a thorough medical screening to determine if there had been any injury,” Alexander said.

The pool is more than 20 feet deep and holds water that continually circulates through the reactor core.

Workers already had removed the highly radioactive uranium fuel that normally sits at the bottom of the pool, officials said.

Without the fuel present, the most likely source of radiation would be stray fuel particles that could have been floating in the water, said Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman Victor Dricks. Contact with a particle of radioactive fuel could be deadly.

Alexander said Edison decontaminated the worker and conducted tests to determine whether he had swallowed any dangerous particles.

Alexander said initial tests showed no significant radiation exposure.

He added that the worker was a well-known veteran at the plant with no history of security problems. He said Edison will revisit its procedures for working around the reactor pool and may require that workers tie off with ropes to a surrounding structure as a way of preventing another incident.

Edison officials called the NRC to tell them about the fall, Dricks said, but the incident did not appear on a regular list of incident notifications that all nuclear operators must make to the NRC.

Dricks said it was not technically a reportable incident under federal rules. The incident would have been reportable if the worker had received a radiation dose greater than 5,000 millirem, he said.  

Alexander said that the worker was determined to have received 5 millirem of radiation from the fall. The federal government allows nuclear workers to receive no more than 5,000 millirem of radiation in a calendar year.

"The worker was able to return to work the same day,” Alexander said, adding that Edison continued to monitor the worker for several days after the fall but found no signs that he had received a harmful dose of radiation.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the public receives about a 4 millirem dose of radiation during a chest X-ray.

CLARIFICATION: Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman Victor Dricks said that, without fuel present in the reactor pool, the most likely source of radiation would be stray fuel particles that could have been floating in the water. The initial version of this story used the phrase "deadly radiation," though Dricks did not use the word deadly.

Copyright 2012 North County Times. All rights reserved.

Read more: http://www.nctimes.com/news/local/oceanside/san-onofre-worker-at-nuclear-plant-fell-into-reactor-pool/article_519d459c-19f4-55ed-87c6-8131872e6760.html#ixzz1lkNuleSB


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