Synthesis/Regeneration 11   (Fall 1996)

Accident During Waste Transfer

Explosion and Fire at Point Beach Nuke Plant

by Eleanor Roemer, Lake Michigan Federation

Loading of irradiated nuclear fuel into dry storage containers was suspended at Point Beach (WI) Nuclear Plant following an explosion during a welding procedure. According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) initial report, at 2:45 a.m. on May 28, an unidentified gas ignited inside a fully-loaded cask of nuclear waste containing 14 tons of irradiated fuel rods, causing the explosion.

The accident occurred just prior to the welding of the 9 inch thick cask lid that weighs about 4,400 pounds. The explosion inside the cask lifted the 2 ton lid, leaving it tipped at an angle with one edge 1 inch higher than normal. There were no injuries.

The NRC has suspended further loading of nuclear waste casks until it can determine the cause of the accident and whether any irradiated fuel rods were damaged by the explosion. Each 18 foot high cask includes 170 pounds of plutonium when loaded. Each loaded silo contains the equivalent radioactivity of 240 Hiroshima-type explosions. According to US guidelines, the waste must be kept safe for 10,000 years. The explosion confirms environmental groups' concerns that the VSC-24 dry storage system has not been sufficiently reviewed to protect public health and the environment. This accident demonstrates the real threat to the Great Lakes ecosystem.

For more information, call 312-939-0838.

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