Valve issue takes Fermi 2 nuclear plant offline

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News
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The Fermi 2 nuclear energy plant is seen in this May 31, 2001 file photo.

An issue with a valve in the Fermi 2 nuclear power plant's re-circulation system was found after a faulty transformer prompted DTE Energy Co. to shut the plant down, a company official said.

Stephen Tait, a spokesman for the Detroit-based company, said the plant's re-circulation system provides water to the reactor to control its power. 

On Tuesday, the company said the problem with the valve was discovered after a transformer malfunctioned. The news came about five days after a 3.6 earthquake was reported near Amherstburg, Ontario, about 12 miles northeast of the power plant.

"The valve was functioning as expected while the plant was online," he said. "We know this because we constantly monitor plant equipment like this and there was no issue."

However, the power plant's personnel found a problem with the valve as they tested the reactor's components and prepared to restart it, Tait said.

"As we test and restart components, at times, we find they need to be repaired," he said. "That's what we found in this case. It's nothing unusual."

Tait also said the system with the malfunctioning valve is a redundant system, so there's another system just like it ready to back it up if needed.

Newport is about 31 miles south of Detroit and on Lake Erie in Monroe County, near Michigan’s border with Ohio.

Fermi 2 began operating in 1988 and has generated more than 200 billion kilowatt hours of electricity for DTE Energy's customers since its inception. The plant employs about 850 workers. 

Two years ago, the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission renewed DTE Energy's license to operate the plant until 2045. Its original license was granted in 1985 and was set to expire March 20, 2025.

In 2015, the commission gave DTE Energy a license to build and operate a new nuclear energy facility on the Fermi 2 site. The company has yet to commit to building a new plant, but officials said it will keep the option open for long-term planning purposes.

Fermi 2's 40-foot tall boiling water reactor generates about 1,200 megawatts of electricity — enough to power one million homes and businesses — for DTE Energy. The plant supplies about 20 percent of the electricity DTE generates accounts for about a third of the state's total capacity to generate power from nuclear energy. 

Tait said the power company will either increase production at its natural gas or coal-fired plants or buy electricity on the open market and have it transmitted to the region to make up for the shortfall.

Last week, DTE Energy officials said the quake wasn't an issue for the plant. It's seismic monitors didn't pick up any activity and the plant had been shut down since April 14 because of the transformer malfunction.

They also said the plant's shutdown had nothing to do with the earthquake. In addition, the quake did not impact work to repair the transformer, they said.

Tait said the company will not discuss how long the plant will remain shut down or when it will resume operations because of market considerations.

Michigan has three other nuclear power plants, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The Indiana Michigan Power Company, based in Fort Wayne, Ind., has two plants located 13 miles south of Benton Harbor on the state's west side. New Orleans-based Entergy Corp. owns and operates the Palisades Nuclear Power Plant in Covert five miles south of South Haven.

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