WASHINGTON – Government inspectors went to the Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant this week to examine a cooling system malfunction that caused the Unit 2 nuclear reactor to shut down briefly on Jan. 23.
But both plant and county officials said there was no cause for alarm in the shutdown and the inspection, which will last for a week, was routine.
“There was no threat to surrounding areas, and there were no public health and safety consequences,” said Neil A. Sheehan, a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which dispatched inspectors to the Lusby plant Tuesday.
Elleen Kane, a spokeswoman for the Constellation Energy Group, which operates Calvert Cliffs through its Baltimore Gas & Electric subsidiary, said the public was “never in danger.”
The reactor shut down automatically after a malfunction in the pump that supplies the water that helps cool the reactor and generates steam to drive the electricity-producing main turbine.
Kane said the culprit for the shutdown apparently was a loose fuse in the control cabinet for the steam-generator feedwater pump. While the reactor is designed to shut down in such circumstances, equipment issues in last month’s event slowed down the restart.
David Lochbaum, a nuclear safety engineer with the Union of Concerned Scientists, agreed that the NRC was just trying to determine what happened,
“They want to see the reasons,” Lochbaum said. “They’ve (Calvert Cliffs) not been the best plant in the country . . . but they’re above average.”
Built by BGE in the 1970s, Calvert Cliffs was licensed to operate for 40 years. But in 2000, it became the first nuclear power plant in the nation to be relicensed, winning extensions that will allow its two reactors to operate for an additional 20 years, until 2034 and 2036.
For Paul Gunter, the director of the reactor watchdog project for the Nuclear Information and Resources Service, Calvert Cliffs’ age makes him uneasy.
“Whether we are talking about toasters or a nuclear power plant, as it ages it is more inherent to breakdown . . . the risks and consequences of safety equipment failure are significant,” Gunter said. “While this is an example of where safety equipment worked, as the plants age we are going to see more of this.”
But Kane downplayed any threat, and noted that “the inspection team is on site now, and we are working closely with them.”
Calvert County officials also said they were pleased with the plant’s response, noting that they got a call from Calvert Cliffs as soon as the Jan. 23 shutdown happened.
“We received a courtesy notification,” said Sandy Simmons, Calvert County’s acting emergency management specialist.
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