Wolf Creek nuclear power plant seeks more time to fix faulty sensor, prevent costly shutdown

Energy Associated Press

Wolf Creek nuclear power plant is asking federal regulators for more time to replace a faulty sensor unit that provides an early warning of reactor coolant leaks.

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The Wichita Eagle (http://bit.ly/YqP9ST ) reports that normally the plant would have 30 days to make the fix. But because the repair involves shutting down the plant, operators want to wait until a shutdown that is scheduled at the end of February.

An unscheduled two- to three-day shutdown would cost Kansas utilities, and eventually their customers, more than $1 million. The plant is jointly owned by Westar Energy, Kansas City Power & Light and Kansas Electric Power Cooperative.

Problems began on Aug. 31 when the sensor unit began to fail, providing false indications of a leak. According to a public notice filed by the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the sensor quit altogether on Sept. 3 after operators reset it five times in three days.

Plant spokesman Terry Young said it's safe to run the reactor without the sensor because of the redundancy built into the safety systems of all nuclear plants.

Mark Trump, associate director of operations at the Breazeale Nuclear Reactor at Pennsylvania State University, reviewed Wolf Creek's documentation and said he didn't see a problem with letting the plant run, as long as the other leak detection systems are operational.

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An unscheduled shutdown to make the repair is costly because it requires the utilities that own the plant to increase output at their other generating plants or to buy power from other utilities.

Westar estimated that shutting down Wolf Creek increases its costs by about $280,000 a day, spokeswoman Gina Penzig said. At the electric cooperative, the cost is about $35,000 a day, said company spokesman Phil Wages.

KCP&L would not provide an estimate. Assuming costs similar to the other utilities, shutting down Wolf Creek for two to three days would likely top $1 million overall.

In Kansas, the bulk of that cost would fall on consumers, said Niki Christopher, staff attorney for the Citizens' Utility Ratepayer Board, the state agency that represents residential and small-business customers.

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Information from: The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle, http://www.kansas.com