Peach Bottom nuclear plant has equipment malfunction during refueling

Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station

In a routine procedure to shut down operations of its Unit 3 reactor for refueling, Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station had an equipment malfunction, triggering an emergency declaration.

The type of emergency was classified as an “unusual event,” which is the least severe on the scale set by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said Megan Lewatowski, communications manager for the plant.

It happened at 12:50 a.m. Monday, Oct. 21, according to a report from the NRC, and operator Exelon went through the protocols of alerting Maryland and Pennsylvania state agencies, local governments and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“While removing Unit 3 from service, a degraded piece of equipment was identified during the shutdown sequence, requiring operators to use an alternate method for shutdown,” a news release from Exelon stated.

A manual toggle switch didn’t perform as expected, and operators used a backup push-button system to insert the control rods to shut down the reactor, Lewatowski explained.

Concerns: Those who have been vocal against Peach Bottom getting a second license extension see this as evidence that the plant might have a problem with aging management.

Peach Bottom is one of only four plants in the nation planning for a second license extension, which would push operations from 60 to 80 years.

“This was their primary safety-related shutdown system that failed to operate as intended,” said Paul Gunther, executive director for anti-nuclear group Beyond Nuclear.

When a primary system doesn’t work, it could be indicative of larger concerns, such as inadequate age management or mechanical failure and not something you want to see routinely, Gunther said.

“There are safety implications if you can’t control the shutdown of the reactor," he said. "It’s like losing the brakes on your car.”

More:Activists challenge license extension for Peach Bottom nuclear plant

More:Federal panel weighs petition against Peach Bottom nuke plant extension

More:Ruling: Arguments against Peach Bottom nuke license 'too vague'

Eric Epstein, chairman of anti-nuclear watchdog TMI-Alert, said the plant is old and the malfunction on Monday should not have happened.

Options: Lewatowski did not want to comment on whether the plant was adequately prepared for aging issues in the future, as they are not a problem now, but she noted this was an isolated incident — not indicative of a pattern of failures.

She added that the equipment that failed on Monday has multiple backup options if needed and will be replaced during the outage.

The emergency declaration was called off by 2:30 a.m. the same day.