Environment: Big Trouble at Savannah River

Probes of a nuclear plant reveal safety flaws and near accidents

The revelations were enough to curl the hair on the neck of the most seasoned nuclear engineer. Last April a reactor at the Federal Government's sprawling Savannah River Plant near Aiken, S.C., was shut down to upgrade safety systems -- with partially irradiated tritium still in its core. In August technicians, oblivious to the decaying radioactive material inside, tried to restart the reactor but were unable to keep it going. The next day they tried again. Ignoring procedure, they set off an abnormal jump in nuclear fission, usually a sign of imminent trouble. Workers ignored the warning, forcing plant officials to...

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