Vogtle AP1000 Nuclear Reactor Vessel Discovered Unprotected, Stranded in Savannah Port since December 15 Shipment Failure
See Update of January 22:
Schnabel Schnafu and Poor Planning Means Reactor a Sitting Duck to Sabotage? What's the Plan for Moving the "Giant Hunk of Steel?"
Violation of NRC’s “Quality Assurance” Regulations Necessitate Re-inspection and Possible Abandonment of Reactor Vessel
Update of January 16: Stranded reactor vessel is still visible in the port of Savannah but has been moved a short distance from its prior location. See photo posted with article.
--- Exclusive ANA Photos Linked Below - Credit to ANA Must be Given if Used ---
Columbia, SC – The broken railroad car assumed to be carrying the massive AP1000 reactor pressure vessel destined for the construction site at Southern Company’s Plant Vogtle in Georgia has been spotted unguarded near the dock in the port of Savannah.
The purpose-built, articulated “Schnabel” rail car apparently under control of reactor vendor Westinghouse, sits parked outside on a rail line in a port area which is viewable from a public sidewalk. The reactor pressure vessel (RPV) is covered by a large blue tarp and is not directly visible. Beyond an occasional drive-by of vehicles, no security of any kind nor were any repair or inspection activities observed. No cranes capable of lifting the 300-ton vessel were visible.
“Though perhaps too heavy to steal or roll out of the port unnoticed, the reactor vessel and rail car appear highly vulnerable to malicious acts of damage, subtle acts of sabotage and humid, salt air-induced corrosion, “according to Tom Clements of the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability (ANA), who observed the rail car parked in the port on January 13.
Activists and the media learned on January 10 that the rail journey of the reactor vessel out of the Savannah port had encountered problems just outside the port of Savannah. Photos of the distressed rail car were obtained on January 10 from an industry source. The NRC confirmed on January 10 that the transport incident took place on December 15. No statement was issued at that time by Westinghouse/Shaw/Southern Company and it is believed that no statement has been released until now as to the way forward with managing the stranded reactor vessel.
It appears that Georgia Power and Southern Company, now building two experimental AP1000s units at Plant Vogtle - directly across the Savannah River from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site (SRS), South Carolina, and near the small city of Waynesboro, Georgia - have wanted to avoid publicity about the fact that the reactor vessel shipment was not able to be carried out and has been greatly delayed.
>>> As the reactor vessel for the first US nuclear project in decades sits stranded on the dock, a Forbes article of January 15 says: "So it appears that the nuclear renaissance may be largely over before it started." (http://www.forbes.com/sites/peterdetwiler/2013/01/15/new-centralized-nuclear-plants-still-an-investment-worth-making/)
As it appears that the reactor vessel could have been damaged during the rail incident or subject to unknown stresses, salt corrosion or hard-to-detect sabotage due to sitting in the port for a month, it appears that Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) regulations – under “Appendix B to Part 50—Quality Assurance Criteria for Nuclear Power Plants and Fuel Reprocessing Plants” – may well have been ignored and violated.
The special “Schnabel” car – its many small wheels designed to spread out the weight can be seen in the photos linked below - is sitting just north of downtown Savannah, hundreds of feet from both the Savannah River ship channel and the Talmadge Memorial Bridge which spans the river. The area on the rail line where the rail car is believed to have failed is just outside the port area behind a branch office of the Savannah police department and between SE Lathrop Avenue and the U.S. Highway 17 approach to the bridge, which looms to the side of the stranded reactor.
The reactor vessel, which has no nuclear fuel in it, was shipped from the Doosan Heavy Industries (Doosan) facility in Changwon, Gyeongnam, Korea. That facility was cited by the NRC on May 19, 2009 for a “nonconformance” by NRC vendor inspectors but the report states said that “The inspectors compared selected sections of the Westinghouse and Doosan AP1000 Steam Generator, AP1000 Reactor Vessel…..All selected review areas of Doosan specification documents and manufacturing drawings were confirmed to conform to the code requirements and Westinghouse customer documentation and specifications.
Disturbingly, no NRC inspections of the Doosan facility and the fabrication of the reactor vessel were made since 2009, according to the NRC’s list of “Vendor Quality Assurance (QA) Inspection Reports for New Reactors.” It is unknown if Doosan officials, as has been rumored, will inspect the stranded vessel.
It appears that multiple violations of NRC’s regulations concerning components may have been committed and may be on-going. NRC’s “quality assurance criteria” require “managerial and administrative controls” for components and that “Measures shall be established to control the handling, storage, shipping, cleaning and preservation of material and equipment in accordance with work and inspection instructions to prevent damage or deterioration.” Likewise, the regulations state that “Measures shall be established to assure that conditions adverse to quality, such as failures, malfunctions, deficiencies, deviations, defective material and equipment, and nonconformances are promptly identified and corrected.”
If the NRC believes that no “quality assurance” regulations apply to protecting the reactor vessel, an essential component to the safe operation of the reactor facility, then the public should be informed about this regulatory loophole and questionable state of affairs.
“Although it is unknown when Southern Company would take possession and ownership of the stranded reactor, it is incumbent upon the NRC to immediately require an action plan of Westinghouse to guard and inspect the reactor vessel,” said Tom Clements, Nonproliferation Policy Director of the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability. “As it appears that administrative control over the reactor may have been lost, a requirement to protect public health and safety while the reactor is in use, the vessel may have to be discarded or returned to Korea.”
Clements has heard a rumor that South Carolina Electric & Gas (SCE&G), which is also building the experimental AP1000 reactor at its V.C Summer site north of Columbia, South Carolina, may be called on to send its Schnabel car to the rescue. It is unknown where such a car might be situated but SCE&G is expected to receive its reactor vessels through the port of Charleston, South Carolina. It is also unknown how the reactor vessel might be lifted off the broken car and onto a different one or if same mechanical problems would develop.
“If there is an engineering problem of the car design and the breakdown was not a one-time mechanical issue, the reactor’s fate may be to sit long-term in savannah,” said Clements. This is a responsibility that the port of Savannah and the railroad company should not assume or tolerate, according to Clements. It is unknown what the rail road transport cost was projected to be or what the daily costs are due to the delay.
Due to chronic delays in the pouring of “nuclear concrete” for the basemat of the AP1000 units at Vogtle and VC Summer, it remains unknown when or if any reactor vessels can actually be placed into the excavated holes at the sites. A January 10 meeting of the NRC confirmed that another basemat-related “license amendment request” (LAR) was soon to be filed by SCE&G for its AP1000 project and that the target date for granting of the LAR was March 18. It appears that the Vogtle project has fallen behind the V.C. Summer project and no strategy for the filing of a similar and necessary LAR by Southern Company is known.
Exclusive photos from public sidewalk of stranded Vogtle reactor vessel, from January 13, 2013 – credit to be given to Tom Clements of the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability if any photos are used. Call for exact location of place from which the photos were taken (about 1 mile from the center of downtown Savannah):
Legal overflight photos from late December of the Vogtle and V.C. Summer sites, by High Flyer, are available on request. See photo example of Vogtle site in December 28 blog at: