East Tennessee company tests nuclear equipment

East Tennessee company tests nuclear equipment for earthquake safety

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ATC Nuclear in Oak Ridge uses a Tri-axial Seismic Simulator, the new generation in earthquake testing. ATC Nuclear in Oak Ridge uses a Tri-axial Seismic Simulator, the new generation in earthquake testing.
"This vibrates up and down, back and forth, and left to right all at the same time," said ATC engineer Howard Butler. "It's five times stronger than Fukushima." "This vibrates up and down, back and forth, and left to right all at the same time," said ATC engineer Howard Butler. "It's five times stronger than Fukushima."
Each piece is put through some environmental weathering in an enclosure, like extreme humidity or extreme cold, depending on the environment where the part is heading. Each piece is put through some environmental weathering in an enclosure, like extreme humidity or extreme cold, depending on the environment where the part is heading.
"We want the plant to be able to operate safely during an earthquake," said Howard Butler. "We want the plant to be able to operate safely during an earthquake," said Howard Butler.

By KRISTIN FARLEY
6 News Anchor/Reporter

OAK RIDGE (WATE) - Problems continue at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan. While a tsunami ultimately led to the multiple meltdowns there, the 2011 earthquake that preceded raised more awareness about nuclear plant stability during national disasters.

Parts of Tennessee are in the moderate to high zone for seismic activity according to the U.S. Geological Survey, and many nuclear plants are close to high risk areas.

However, a company here in East Tennessee is using an advanced earthquake simulator to test electronic parts before they are ever installed in nuclear plants, and 6 News got an exclusive look.

These tests are performed every day right in our backyard, putting vital electronics for nuclear plants to the test.

ATC Nuclear in Oak Ridge uses a Tri-axial Seismic Simulator, the new generation in earthquake testing.   

"Let me put it to you this way: we've got three 11 Kip actuators. That means we've got 33,000 pounds of load here. That's enough to pick up like, 11 automobiles," explained engineer Howard Butler.

Butler says this 3-D device is used to create the most realistic scenario, doing what standard shake tables cannot.

"This vibrates up and down, back and forth, and left to right all at the same time," said Butler. "This machine that we use tests at anywhere between 7 and 12 gs. So it's five times stronger than Fukushima."

Each day, Butler and other engineers test electronics for nuclear plants. In the simplest terms, they want to know if the part in question continue to function properly during an earthquake.  If not,clearly there could be life-threatening consequences.

"When I sign that product release, I know it's going to perform seismically properly. I don't worry about it one bit," said Butler.

Each piece is put through some environmental weathering in an enclosure, like extreme humidity or extreme cold, depending on the environment where the part is heading.    

Then, each electronic is wired to a control room where engineers document how it's functioning before, during and after a shake. A controller box was being tested for a regional TVA nuclear facility during 6 News' visit.

"We want the plant to be able to operate safely during an earthquake, obviously. But we want to go so far above that, [so] there's absolutely no question in anybody's mind that there will be no postulated seismic event to even come close to it," said Butler.

After the first test, engineers determined the box functioned correctly and appears intact.

Then,  there was a second test on this same piece of equipment. This time, the door popped open. Even though the engineers say the electronics continued to function properly, the door or latch did not, meaning this won't get approval.

ATC's president Greg Hott explained what happens when a part fails.

"If the parts don't pass initial testing, we work with engineers at the nuclear plants to come up with a solution to see how to make that part or a similar part function properly," said Hott.

ATC tests equipment for nuclear plants all over the world, and these engineers right here in East Tennessee say they never forget the importance of their job.

"I live here. I've got family here. I like to sleep at night, too," said Butler.

ATC Nuclear also does a host of other tests checking the durability of devices. The tests include exposing items to fire, radiation, and even testing electromagnetic compatibility.

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