Westinghouse Nuclear-Fuel Error Spurs U.S. Inquiry at 11 Plants

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said it’s concerned that 11 reactors could become too hot in accident situations because some older nuclear fuel from Westinghouse Electric Co. may not adequately conduct heat.

The commission today asked companies including Duke Energy Corp., Exelon Corp., Dominion Resources Inc., FirstEnergy Corp. and American Electric Power Co. to analyze their fuel’s performance under conditions that could halt the normal cooling of reactors at the plants.

The NRC needs more information from the plants “to maintain that they can continue to operate safely,” Eric Leeds, director of the agency’s Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation, said in a statement.

Computer models developed for fuel by Westinghouse, a unit of Tokyo-based Toshiba Corp., may have incorrectly estimated its ability to dissipate heat, according to the NRC’s statement. The regulator sets a heat limit of 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit for fuel during accident situations to prevent fuel rods from being damaged, Scott Burnell, an agency spokesman, said in a phone interview.

“The NRC alerted the industry to this problem in 2009, and Westinghouse needs to do more to account for” heat loss in its computer modeling for the fuel, Leeds said.

The NRC in December informed reactor-owners that an error in the formula could allow the fuel temperatures to exceed the 2,200-degree limit, according to the agency’s statement.

The agency is seeking analysis of fuel heat loss from Duke Energy’s Catawba and McGuire plants, both near Charlotte, North Carolina; Exelon’s Braidwood and Byron plants in Illinois; FirstEnergy’s Beaver Valley plant north of Pittsburgh; Dominion’s Kewaunee reactor near Green Bay, Wisconsin; and American Electric’s Donald C. Cook plant in southwestern Michigan. Some of the facilities have more than one reactor.

Westinghouse didn’t have an immediate comment on the NRC’s statement, Scott Shaw, a company spokesman, said in a phone interview.

The NRC has asked the plants to provide information by March 19.