Kola break-in sounds Nuclear danger alarm

Publish date: April 15, 1999

Written by: Igor Kudrik

Safety, social issues raised again before criminal investigations at Kola Nuclear Power Plant

Kola nuclear power plant has commissioned an investigation of the April 8th incident that led to a shut down of its Number 1 reactor.

Russian Security Police (FSB) and the plant commission will try to explain how thieves managed to remove part of the oil pressure monitoring system from turbine machinery, the reported caused of the incident.

"We can not say for sure that we are dealing with theft here, but a vital part of the machinery was removed by someone," Galina Pitkevich, the plant’s spokesperson told Bellona Web. "All the merits of the incident will be established during the investigation now underway at the plant."

Like other nuclear power plants, Kola restricts access to outsiders. Theft would have to involve a person with security clearance, although Pitkevich said she couldn’t imagine the involvement of any of the plant’s employees.

"This is the oldest reactor unit. Recently we celebrated the reactor’s 25th anniversary. People who work here are very devoted to what they are doing. It will be quite a shock if it turns out it was one of our employees," Pitkevich commented.

She thought another possible scenario might necessitate the involvement of someone from one of the plant’s subcontractors, who perform periodic but non-nuclear work on site.

Funding shortfalls and chronically unpaid wages in Russia have also affected the nuclear energy sector, adding social-economic issues to the list of technical-safety concerns. Kola NPP has not been spared.

The incident was the first reported theft to threaten the safe operation of the plant’s reactors. But the symptoms are more than alarming. Outdated equipment malfunctions and human error are compounded dangerously irresponsible actions like the theft of critically important reactor components.

In January this year a similar incident occurred aboard a nuclear-powered submarine, when a conscript decided to pillage its reactor room for 24 lengths of wire. The submarine was reportedly sent to a shipyard for repairs.