Calvert Cliffs nuclear reactor shut down

Control rod malfunction reduces power

August 13, 2012|By Timothy B. Wheeler, The Baltimore Sun

Operators of the Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant in Southern Maryland have shut down one of the two reactors there because a control rod unexpectedly dropped into the reactor core, causing a reduction in power generation, a plant spokesman said Monday.

The incident happened Sunday afternoon, prompting the plant's staff to shut the reactor down to find and fix the cause of the malfunction, according to Kory Raftery, spokesman for Constellation Energy Nuclear Group. Control rods are used in a reactor to limit the fission taking place among the reactor's enriched-uranium fuel rods.

An unplanned insertion of a control rod into a reactor core can "create an imbalance in the fissioning and pose challenges for reactor operators," according to Neil Sheehan, a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. He described it as an infrequent occurrence among U.S. nuclear plants.

The plant spokesman said there was no risk to the public from the control-rod problem, noting the plant's redundant safety systems. But he said that "the safe and prudent decision was to shut the unit down" until inspections and maintenance could be performed.

Raftery could not predict when Unit 1 would be back in operation, but noted that Unit 2 is still running at full power at the plant, which is 70 miles south of Baltimore.

"We'll get back up to 100 percent and connected to the grid as soon as safely possible," he said.

It's the third unplanned shutdown of Unit 1 in the past month; the reactor was taken out of service twice in July to fix a pair of leaks, according to Raftery.

tim.wheeler@baltsun.com

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