Monroe Evening News
False alarms trigger Fermi emergency
by Charles Slat , last modified June 14. 2008 1:25AM
DTE Energy declared a low-level emergency at its Fermi 2 nuclear plant early Friday when more than 75 percent of its reactor control room panel alarms sounded, apparently due to a problem in the electrical system powering the alarms.
An unusual event is the lowest level of four federal nuclear plant emergency classifications that are declared when an incident occurs that might have safety implications.
The control room has dozens of alarms that are designed to sound when instruments detect plant operations outside normal parameters. John J. Austerberry, an Edison spokesman, said the alarms "falsely activated. There was no correlating emergency situation associated with them." Falsely activated?
He said the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission was notified and the utility switched to a back-up power supply to continue powering the alarm systems. Plant operation was not affected. The reactor continued to operate at 100 percent of power.
He explained the power supply had shut down and then restarted in a very short time frame and "it was enough of a disturbance to trigger the alarms." Let's see...the power supply shut down and restarted on its own (why?), then the alarms go off and are placed on back-up power. Note below the back-up power for the operations center failed during the storm Monday. What is "false" about that? Yes, it is disturbing that the power supply restarts on its own, the alarms sound, and there is a problem with the alarm's electrical system.
What good is back-up power if the equipment it powers is faulty? Are there back up alarms?
Operators then shut down the power supply and restarted it again and it resumed operating normally. The incident happened at about 1:45 a.m. Operators continued to check instrument readings and monitor reactor operations. The unusual event declaration was canceled at 6:03 a.m.
It was the second time in a week that the utility had to notify the NRC of an event at the plant.
On Monday, a storm cut power to the plant's emergency operations facility - the command center for responding to a serious accident at the plant. The center has a backup generator, but that failed to start. Well, storms happen. Not DTE's fault, right? Shouldn't they be prepared for storms? What if a tornado or earthquake hit? God forbid a terrorist attack or sabatoge? Not very comforting knowing the operations center was down and back-up power failed.
The power went out shortly after 8 p.m. and was restored slightly more than three hours later. The utility said it would have used its alternate emergency operations facility if a major accident had occurred during the power outage. Let's hope they powered it up and tested to see if IT worked. Nice to know operations command would only have been available in case of a major accident.
I realize the DTE operators are only human, and machines are only parts that wear out, but I have very high standards for a facility that could potentially cause massive destruction!