NC State has begun the process to repair a small water leak in the liner of its research reactor. University officials say there is no risk to public health.
“This is a research reactor and considerably smaller than a commercial power reactor,” said Gerry Wicks, the university’s reactor health physicist. “Its design significantly limits the possibility that even under the worst circumstances this facility presents any kind of danger.
“Reactor license specifications require regulatory notification if a water leak exceeds 350 gallons per hour. Our facility is leaking at about 10 gallons an hour. Even though this does not present health risks, we want to be on the safe side and make sure the public knows the situation.”
Although the leak does not rise to the level of a formal report to federal and state agencies, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, North Carolina Radiation Protection Division and the state Division of Water Quality have been informed of the leak.
Wicks said the research reactor holds more than 15,000 gallons of water and operates at a full power level of about one megawatt, compared to nearly 3,000 megawatts produced at the nearby Shearon Harris nuclear power plant. He added that as part of normal operations, the research reactor is typically shut down at the end of each day, and has been shut down since the leak was discovered on July 2. NC State has contracted with a company that specializes in repairing this type of leak.
“The leak is virtually invisible,” Wicks said. “It takes special equipment to find and repair it.”
The research reactor has been in operation since 1972 and is one of about 20 university-operated reactors in the country. It is in operation about 1,000 hours annually for nuclear research.