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Archive for Thursday, April 4, 1996

WOLF CREEK TO RESUME OPERATIONS

April 4, 1996

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The only nuclear power plant in Kansas is set to restart this weekend.

The Wolf Creek nuclear power plant near Burlington is rumbling to life this week after a nine-week shutdown. Operators hope the plant will start generating power this weekend.

Wolf Creek, about 55 miles south of Topeka, was shut down on Jan. 30 because ice buildup in a cooling pond disabled a pump. Although the problem was quickly solved, plant operators decided to keep the plant closed and to start a routine refueling and testing shutdown about a month earlier than planned.

Workers replaced a third of the plant's 193 uranium fuel assemblies and inspected various systems within the plant.

Among the most closely watched tests were inspections of thousands of slender tubes used to transfer heat from radioactive water to nonradioactive water.

While 16 of the plant's 22,504 steam generator tubes were permanently taken out of service because the tests revealed "wear," none were found with the kinds of cracks that have plagued similar plants elsewhere.

Industry critics complained that the tests were inadequate and unreliable, but the tests complied with current federal guidelines, which have been under review for nearly a year.

Some analysts fear the tubes could burst and cause a catastrophic accident, but Wolf Creek's operators say the plant is safe.

The next inspection of steam generator tubes at Wolf Creek is planned for the fall of 1997, during the plant's next scheduled refueling shutdown.

Final tests at Wolf Creek will continue this week as operators gradually increase the heat and pressure within the plant's core until it begins its controlled nuclear chain reaction. Operators hope that will be on Saturday or Sunday. Heat generated by the fission reaction is used to make steam that turns the plant's generating turbines.

Running at full capacity, the 1,200-megawatt plant can generate power for about 1 million homes.

"What we want to do is be putting power back on the grid this weekend," said Mona Grimsley, a representative for the Wolf Creek Operating Corp.

Wolf Creek began generating electricity in 1985. It is jointly owned by Kansas Gas & Electric Co., Kansas City Power & Light Co. and Kansas Electric Power Cooperative.

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