Advisers to nuclear regulator bolster industry position on deteriorating pressure tubes

By Matthew McClearn

External experts looking into the unexpectedly rapid deterioration of key components in nuclear power reactors have concluded that the plants can operate safely, although they say it’s unclear what caused the problem in the first place.

The External Advisory Committee on Pressure Tubes was convened in the summer of 2021 to help the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission after the discovery of unexpectedly high levels of deuterium (an isotope of hydrogen) in pressure tubes at the Bruce Nuclear Generating Station, violating the terms of its operating license.

After two years, the committee agreed with all the conclusions previously arrived at by industry representatives and commission staff.

In a final report dated July 4 and published without fanfare last month, the committee declared that while “a great deal of work” remains to be done to understand the problem’s cause, “enough has been done by the licensees to definitively provide assurance that the plants can operate safely.”

The committee included Mark Daymond, a professor at Queen’s University’s engineering and physics departments, and Paul Spekkens, a former employee of Ontario Power Generation. (Its chair, John Luxat of McMaster University, withdrew for health reasons in January.) Their final report is a boon for Bruce Power, which has an application before the CNSC seeking to remove limits in its operating license that its pressure tubes violated more than two years ago.

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