Power plant workers exposed to radioactivity

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April 13th, 2011

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Brownville, NE – Over a week ago, three workers were exposed to radiation at the Cooper Nuclear Station in Brownville, Nebraska after workers failed to follow proper procedure.

“This is unusual,” said Senior Public Affairs Officer Victor Dricks of the Washington-based Nuclear Regulatory Committee.

Dricks said during a routine maintenance procedure, three workers at the Cooper Nuclear Station were exposed to radiation while removing a 27-foot-long stainless steel tube. That tube was contaminated with highly radioactive material from the reactor vessel. Instead of removing the tube from the top of the reactor vessel, Dricks said workers acted against protocol and removed it from the bottom. Those workers were suddenly alerted to radiation in the air by their monitors they set down the tube, and quickly left the area.

Three workers were exposed to radiation at the Cooper Nuclear Station in Brownville, NE, after acting against protocol. (Photo credit Cooper Nuclear Station)

So what’s the difference between removing the tube from the top or bottom of the reactor? Dricks explains: “It’s a problem because as they were pulling this tube out of the bottom of the reactor vessel, they exposed the unshielded portion of the tubes that had been highly contaminated by radioactivity, and it set off their electronic alarms indicating they were in the presence of high radiation field.”

Dricks said the failure to follow proper procedure is exactly what prompted the NRC to get involved.

“We’re going to look into what the circumstances were exactly that caused them to deviate from the normal practice,” he said. “We want to… check what NPPD’s response to the event was and make sure everything was done properly … so that won’t occur.”

The Nebraska Public Power District owns and operates the plant. Mark Becker, a spokesman for NPPD, said his organization will be doing some investigating of their own.

“What we’re doing right now is called a root cause investigation,” he said. “We’ll make further comment on that later, and we’ll do any corrective actions if necessary. ”

Becker said the employees of the plant are all trained and are familiar with proper safety protocols.

“Our workers are very highly trained,” he said. “And for some unknown reason … we had a situation that caused the contamination of three of our craft workers. We consider it an unacceptable situation though.”

Although those workers did receive some radiation exposure, Becker said it was not a significant amount. They were never hospitalized, he said, and are already back on the job.

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