ROCKFORD - Call it a crisis averted, after operators at the Byron Nuclear Power Plant were able to restore power to a reactor and prevent what could have been a major disaster. But critics say they should have acted sooner.
A loss of power with time ticking, that's what operators at the Byron Nuclear Power Plant encountered in January of 2012.
A switch that's used to power one of the reactors failed when an insulator broke.
"That line broke, and it broke in a way that was so unique that they were getting different indications that we wouldn't normally get," said Byron Nuclear Power plant spokesperson Paul Dempsey.
Operators then spent eight minutes diagnosing the problem.
"When the shift managers and operators have discussion of what to do next, and they decided to go to the diesel generator to get the power back in," said Dempsey.
It's those eight minutes that an article in the Japan Times points to as a critical failure and could have resulted in severe consequences.
"That day we did have a steam release," said Dempsey.
Steam that could have carried dangerous amounts radioactive material, but tests were done to check the air quality "to determine if there was radioactive release of any kind," said Dempsey. And there wasn't.
It was actually determined on site that "you would get less radiation than if you were living in a house with a smoke detector," said Dempsey. "That's how minute it was."
When the Nuclear Regulatory Commission invested the power outage, its final report showed the Byron staff acted appropriately.
"We found that the plant's response was, in the end, fine," said Nuclear Regulatory Commission public spokesperson Scott Burnell. "That they did the things they were suppose to do."
This type of power outage has never happened at the Byron plant before, and it prompted new industry first equipment to prevent another delay in switching to back-up power.
"We have now installed a different piece of equipment that can sense that right away, and give us that automatic switch over to diesel generators [warning]," said Dempsey.
Both the NRC and Byron staff point out that at no time the public was at any risk.