Reactor shut down unexpectedly at Limerick nuke plant

One of the reactors at Exelon Nuclear’s Limerick Generating Station
One of the reactors at Exelon Nuclear’s Limerick Generating Station

LIMERICK — Operators of the Limerick Nuclear Generating Station shut down one of the reactors at the plant unexpectedly late Tuesday night due to a problem with the system that controls the flow of steam to the turbine.

According to a statement issued Wednesday morning by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the first alarm sounded at 11:24 p.m.

“At 11:24 p.m. Tuesday, the Limerick Unit 1 control room received alarms involving reactor feedwater heaters and the turbine. The operators in turn began lowering reactor power,” NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan wrote in a statement emailed to 21st Century Media at 9:38 a.m. Wednesday.

“When the level was at about 87 percent, at about 11:45 p.m., the operators manually scrammed the reactor, which means they inserted all control rods to halt the fissioning process and shut down the reactor,” Sheehan wrote.


The NRC’s on-site inspector was summoned and reviewed the actions taken by the Exelon Nuclear employees.

Sheehan said initial information indicates the problem was with the “turbine electro-hydraulic control system,” which regulates the flow of steam from the reactor to the turbine. The steam spins the turbine to generate electricity.

“This event presents no threat to public health and safety and will not affect electrical service to customers. Limerick Unit 2 remains at full power,” plant spokeswoman Dana Melia said in a press release sent to 21st Century Media at 10:07 a.m. Wednesday.

“Plant personnel will repair and test the valves before placing the unit back in service,” Melia said in the statement.

“Our initial assessment is that operator response to the condition and the event appears to have been appropriate, but our reviews are continuing,” Sheehan wrote.

He also noted that the control system where the problem occurred “is due to be replaced with a digital EHC system during an upcoming refueling and maintenance outage.”

This is the first scram, or unscheduled reactor shut-down, of 2014 for the plant and the first since July 2012.

Exelon is seeking to renew the license for the nuclear plant, hoping to continue operations there for 20 more years. The plant’s operating licenses for its two reactors expire Oct. 26, 2024 (Unit 1) and June 22, 2029 (Unit 2).