Ameren repairing leak that prompted Callaway Nuclear Power Plant alert

Monday, September 19, 2011 | 4:51 p.m. CDT; updated 5:11 p.m. CDT, Monday, September 19, 2011

COLUMBIA — Ameren Missouri issued a public alert at the Callaway Nuclear Power Plant on Sunday morning because of a refrigerant leak in the air conditioning system that cools the plant’s control room.

Ameren issued the alert at 10:56 a.m., according to a news release issued by the company. The alert was called off at 5:37 p.m. after plant personnel determined that the leak was not hazardous to the plant’s employees or people living in the area.

Luke Graessle, the director of operations support for the plant, said the leak was found when an employee noticed a mixture of Freon and oil spraying from a crack in a soldered joint in the cooling system during a routine plant tour.

After seeing the leak, the employee then notified control room personnel. The control room’s shift manager decided to issue an alert. Graessle said the leak met the criteria of an alert through the plant’s “emergency preparedness” protocol.

As part of the Callaway plant’s protocol, once the shift manager decides to issue an alert, Ameren contacts emergency officials in Callaway, Montgomery, Gasconade and Osage counties, as well as Missouri’s State Emergency Management Agency and the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

“It’s important that we have open communication about these things,” Ameren spokeswoman Rita Holmes-Bobo said. Both she and Graessle said safety is the primary goal of the plant and its personnel.

“We have a very good staff … our goal is to promote the safety of the public,” Graessle said.

The leak in the air conditioning system did not cause the plant to close because the system is redundant, meaning a second air conditioning system which performs the same function cooled the control room while the leaking system was assessed.

Because of this redundancy, Graessle said the leak had no impact on the plant, and the alternate air conditioning system will allow the control room and the plant to remain operational while the leak is being fixed.

“We anticipate that we’ll have the repairs done in the next several days,” Graessle said.

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