A January accident at a nuclear weapons reactor in South Carolina may have resulted in significantly more damage than engineers initially believed, a newspaper reported today.
An Energy Department investigation of the Jan. 22 accident at the Savannah River plant, during which pressurized water in a reactor cooling system shook pipes and caused some valves to break, found that two 95-ton heat exchangers may have been ruined, the New York Times reported, quoting government engineers.
The Energy Department is further examining the heat exchangers to determine whether they need to be replaced, the paper said. “We have seen an elevation of tritium levels in the exchangers,” said John Patterson, the department’s assistant manager for reactor operations at Savannah River. “We’ll know within a month whether we’ll have to replace them.”
The exchangers transfer heat from the primary system for cooling the reactor to the secondary cooling system. Following the January accident, technicians found that the secondary cooling system’s water contained levels of radioactive tritium that were hundreds of times higher than normal, indicating leaks inside the exchangers.