FRENCHTOWN TWP: Fermi 2 plant closed after vibrations were detected

By Francesca Chilargi
DTE Energy shut down its Fermi 2 reactor plant in Monroe County on March 28 after an unexpected vibration in plant equipment was detected.

John Austerberry, spokesman for DTE, said the nuclear power plant was scheduled to be shut down at 3 a.m. that day for a refuel outage plan.

The vibration in the bearings for the turbine was noted at 1:48 a.m., so operators decided to shut the plant down to protect the equipment, Austerberry said.

"It was not a safety concern," he said, adding that the operators responded appropriately.

DTE officials are investigating the cause of the vibrations and will take any corrective maintenance that is needed, he said.

In other action, DTE is moving ahead with a plan to store spent fuel in dry containers that are a combination of steel and concrete, similar to other plants across the country, Austerberry said.

The preliminary work for storing spent fuel is being done this spring.

While some residents are concerned that storing spent fuel in those type of containers could release the radioactive materials, Austerberry said it's a proven and safe method that is used by more than half the plants in the country.

"There has never been a release of radioactive materials from those storage containers," he said.

In an unrelated matter, the energy provider's application to build a third atomic reactor plant still is pending with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The application for the proposed $8 billion to $10 billion Fermi 3 plant was filed in September.

Fermi 3 would be built on the same site as DTE's Fermi 2 facility and the decommissioned Fermi 1 plant.

The proposed plant would be a simplified boiling water reactor built slightly to the southwest of Fermi 2, which is a boiling water reactor.

DTE officials decided to submit their application for a possible nuclear plant now because of the lengthy process that's involved, Austerberry said.

It took two years to prepare the application, the regulatory commission's review of the application is another four years and construction is expected to take another 10 years.

"We have not made a decision to build a plant, but with concerns of greenhouse gases and climate change and the long-term need for new power plants in the state, we thought it was prudent to prepare and to preserve the option of building a nuclear plant if that is the appropriate decision in the future," he said.

Last month, a binational environmental coalition filed 14 legal contentions with federal regulators against DTE's plan, citing public health and several environmental concerns.

The groups that filed the contentions are the Sierra Club, the Citizens for Alternatives to Chemical Contamination, the Citizens Environment Alliance of Southwestern Ontario and Don't Waste Michigan.

The contentions are part of the public comment period of the application.

The environmental groups object to the proposed plant's possible radioactive and toxic impacts on the western basin of Lake Erie's as damage already is occurring in the Great Lakes due to 33 atomic reactors and dozens of additional coal-fired power plants operating, they said.