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Pandemic concerns interrupt Michigan nuclear plant outage


Some work resumes after contractor 'stand-down'

Outage interruption began May 1

Washington — Some work has resumed after a coronavirus pandemic-caused "stand-down" of activities at DTE Energy's Fermi-2 nuclear reactor in Newport, Michigan, that interrupted a refueling and maintenance outage, company spokesman Stephen Tait said Thursday.

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The "stand-down," in which contractor work was suspended, would add to the duration to the outage, which began March 21, but the company does "not provide estimates of outage or individual project durations," Tait said.

DTE previously confirmed it had employees test positive for the novel coronavirus, but Tait said: "As a company, we are not releasing numbers of positive cases."

The 1,205-MW plant is located in Monroe County, Michigan, and Kim Comerzan, health officer/director of the Monroe County Health Department, said in an interview Thursday the department is working with DTE Energy to determine the number of regular employees and contractors who have tested positive for the virus.

The stand-down began May 1, with some work resuming Monday. Normal crews that maintain the plant remained on the job over the weekend to ensure plant safety, according to Tait.

During refueling outages, hundreds of contract workers are brought in to supplement permanent staff and complete fuel replacement as well as a variety of maintenance tasks and inspections that can only been done with the reactor shut.

"The safety stand-down allowed the site to conduct newly available novel [coronavirus] testing for regular and contract employees at the facility," Tait said. "The testing conducted for all personnel included antibody testing, which requires a finger-prick blood sample, and viral testing, which requires a nasal swab."

US Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokeswoman Viktoria Mitlyng said Thursday the plant is meeting agency safety and security guidelines. "From our regulatory perspective, the plant is operating safely," Mitlyng said.

Many nuclear units in the US and overseas have reduced the scope of outages to limit the number of on-site workers and are employing distancing measures to reduce the chance of spreading the novel coronavirus.

While some outages have been completed in shorter-than-normal times as a result, some have been extended both for health reasons and, in some European countries that are heavily reliant on nuclear power, because of a sharp drop in demand for power due to lockdowns related to the pandemic.