[ RadSafe ] Nuclear Mishap; A Close Call with Catastrophe in Sweden?

Maury Siskel maurysis at ev1.net
Sat Aug 5 20:48:44 CDT 2006

SPIEGEL ONLINE - August 4, 2006, 03:19 PM
URL: http://service.spiegel.de/cache/international/0,1518,430164,00.html

Nuclear Mishap
A Close Call with Catastrophe in Sweden?

An observer has called last week's mishap in Sweden the worst incident 
to befall a nuclear power plant since the accident at Chernobyl. Nobody 
was injured, but for 22 minutes, workers had no idea what was happening 
in the reactor's core. Swedish officials have taken half the country's 
nuclear power plants offline until it can ensure their safe operation.

Sweden's nuclear power station in Forsmark: the worst nuclear incident 
since Chernobyl and Harrisburg?

Sweden's nuclear energy authority, SKI, has largely completed its 
reconstruction of events in an accident last week that led to the 
closure of a nuclear power plant in the city of Forsmark and, 
ultimately, the shutdown of half the country's nuclear plants as a 
precautionary measure. In the incident, two of the plant's four backup 
generators malfunctioned when the plant experienced a major power outage 
on July 25. According to officials, who described the event as 
"serious," a short-circuit triggered the accident, which caused a cut in 
power to the nuclear facility. Plant workers told Swedish media that it 
came close to a meltdown.

In fact, the only thing that appears to have stopped a catastrophe is 
the fact that two diesel backup generators kicked in, enabling the 
Forsmark facility to operate at least part of its emergency cooling 
system. Still, for 20 minutes, workers were unable to obtain information 
about the condition of the reactor and they were only able to respond 
after 21 minutes and 41 seconds, according to a report in Germany's 
Hamburger Abendblatt newspaper.

Swedish media are reporting that a previously unknown technical problem 
emerged during the emergency that could also be present in all other 
Swedish nuclear reactors.

In its first report, nuclear authority SKI claimed that operators of the 
nuclear plant had reacted correctly during the emergency. "In my 
opinion, the media is exaggerating the issue," said Jan Blomstrang, a 
member of SKI's committee for reactor security. The two generators that 
were still operating, he said, could have provided sufficient energy for 
the reactors if it had been necessary. The agency is expected to release 
a comprehensive report in the coming days.

On Thursday, Swedish officials shut down two further nuclear power 
plants as a safety precaution. Plant operators said the move was 
necessary because they could not guarantee the security of nuclear 
facilities in the city of Oskarshamm. A spokesman for the company that 
operates the Oskarshamm plant said he could not rule out the possibility 
of an incident happening like that at Forsmark.

After an emergency meeting of SKI officials, spokesman Anders Bredfall 
said that both nuclear power plants in Oskarshamm would be taken offline 
until investigators were able to deteremine whether the backup 
generators at that plant could fail in the same way as those in Forsmark.

Official: Worst incident since Chernobyl

Swedish nuclear energy expert Lars-Olov Högland, head of the 
construction department at Swedish utility company Vattenfall -- and 
onetime boss at the Forsmark reactor -- has described last week's 
problems as the "worst incident since Chernobyl and Harrisburg," a 
reference to the 1979 meltdown at Three-Mile Island in Pennsylvania. He 
accused the plant's operators of trying to play down the seriousness of 
the event. For their part, officials at Swedish nuclear authority SKI 
have rejected Högland's assessment, describing it as "exaggerated."

Following the latest shutdowns, only five of Sweden's 10 nuclear power 
plants are still operating. Nuclear power accounts for close to half of 
the electricity produced in Sweden and the shutdowns triggered record 
price increases. But the Swedish government's energy agency said the 
nation's electricity supply was not currently at great risk because it 
can rely more on hydropower during the summer months.

Sweden is in the process of abandoning nuclear energy -- a policy that 
has led to the shut down of two of the country's total of 12 plants 
since 1999. However, against a backdrop of concerns about climate change 
and energy dependency, recent public opinion polls indicate that an 
increasing number of Swedes would like to go on using nuclear power.

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