An explosion and fire at a French nuclear plant and jellyfish clogging Scottish and Israeli cooling water intakes were added to the list of challenges faced by power generators in the past week.
Explosion and Fire at French Nuclear Plant
The Guardian reported that an explosion sparked a fire at the Tricastin plant in Drôme in the Rhône Valley on Saturday, two days after France’s nuclear regulator identified 32 safety concerns that needed addressing at the plant.
Plant owner and operator EDF said the fire took place in an electric transformer situated in the non-nuclear part of the plant and had not resulted in any radiation leak or any other contamination. The Guardian noted that "A statement issued by the energy giant raised further concerns as it omitted to mention the explosion—only a fire—and did not give the cause of the blaze."
Two days before the incident, France’s nuclear safety authority, the Autorité de Sûreté Nucléaire (ASN), demanded that 32 safety measures at the 900-MW Tricastin number one pressurized water reactor (which was shut down for maintenance at the time of the explosion and fire) be completed before December 2014. They include "greater protection against fire, flooding and earthquakes, including improvements to the methods of cooling of the nuclear fuel rods in order to lessen the risk of an explosion of hydrogen at the heart of the reactor."
Last year, the ASN said that the unit, built in 1974 and put into operation in 1980, could be operated for another decade. In mid-February this year, the ASN reported an incident involving failure of a backup diesel generator at the plant.
The Guardian also noted that "In 2007 an ASN report had concluded that ‘the site must make improvements in management and training’ and criticised the plant’s procedure for dealing with fires as ‘taking too long’. The following year uranium leaked from the number two reactor at Tricastin during a cleaning operation and contaminated local rivers."
Jellyfish Jam Cooling Water Intakes
EDF Energy, which operates the Torness nuclear power plant on Scotland’s east coast, manually shut that plant down last Wednesday because jellyfish were obstructing the cooling water intake filters. Reactors 1 and 2 were expected to come back online this week.
Though problems with jellyfish clogging water intakes are more common in other countries, including Japan, the problem is rare in the UK. However, "If you get a bit of calm and warm weather they can turn up inshore in high numbers," Reuters quoted David Conway, a marine biologist at the Marine Biological Association as saying.
Scientists commented that increasing fishing of jellyfish predators and global warming (water temperatures in the area of the plant are 1 degree Celsius above normal) are contributing to higher jellyfish populations.
Scotland is not alone in battling the scourge of jellyfish. Another swarm is causing headaches for a coal-powered plant in Hadera, Israel. Several tons of the sea creatures have been sucked into plant machinery through the cooling water intake screen. Some plant workers have also been stung.
The Jewish Chronicle reported that "Scientists from Israel’s Electric Corp warned that unless the problem is sorted out, cities around Israel could be without power, because once in the system the jellyfish diffused to become ‘gels’ that can block the condenser and potentially shut down the plant."
The BBC has posted a video of the gelatinous intruders.
UPDATE AND CORRECTION, July 8, 2011:
Israel is considering building nuclear power plants and “already has two reactors–the secretive Dimona facility in the Negev desert, where it is widely assumed to have produced nuclear weapons, and a research reactor, open to international inspection, at Nahal Soreq near Tel Aviv.” However, we cited incorrect sources in calling the Hadera plant a nuclear plant.
The Jewish Chronicle story we linked to simply identifies the plant as “a power plant in Hadera.” Several other sources, including CBS News, added “nuclear.” In the most detailed story, posted July 7 (a day after we posted), The Jerusalem Post identifies it as “Orot Rabin coal power plant.” We regret repeating the error.
Sources: The Guardian, EDF, Reuters, ASN, NBC, The Jewish Chronicle, BBC, CBS News,