“This Was NO Accident.”
At first glance, many people saw what happened at Arkansas Nuclear One on Easter Sunday in 2013 as just an accident; an error in human judgment or faulty technology. Nothing more, nothing less. And accidents are just part of the life of a nuclear plant anyway, right? Perhaps at other facilities and perhaps at other instances throughout Arkansas Nuclear One’s history, but not this time. What happened to Wade Walters and the other victims was something that could’ve easily been avoided.
Here’s what happened.
Maintenance is a major, frequent and regulated aspect of a nuclear facility. Entergy planned a controlled outage at Arkansas Nuclear One for the usual maintenance plus some other tasks that couldn’t be done without an outage.
One of those tasks was removing the main turbine generator stator. If that sounds big and heavy to you, then you’re correct – it weighs over a million pounds, or 500 tons. Like most big and heavy things, careful planning was required to ensure safety.
The plan was to have this very expensive and very heavy stator lifted by a crane, moved to the turbine deck of the building, turned, and lowered onto a train rail leading outside, and then to a building where it would be refurbished and sold. This whole process, plus the outage schedule, was agreed on by Entergy and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
And this is where the snowball begins.
According to the Plaintiffs filed complaint, Entergy planned to remove the giant stator during a small window of the outage schedule. Since time is money, Entergy pushed to stay within this timeframe and, in effect, pushed its subcontractors. Entergy hired Siemens to plan and execute the stator removal and the other tasks planned during the outage. Planning included hiring subcontractors for the process.
An investigation is being conducted and upon information and belief, when Siemens and Entergy approached different crane companies, they got the same answers such as: that the whole plan couldn’t be done safely OR that the process couldn’t be done safely within the timeframe.
Entergy and Siemens continued searching for a crane company that would work within their parameters. Finally, they approached Bigge and they agreed to the contract. And, Entergy and Siemens walked away with a crane and rigging company willing do what it was told by Entergy. Soon, it will be uncovered exactly how much Bigge charged and how much less it was than the other possible contractors.
So, to recap…the plaintiffs allege both Entergy and Siemens were informed by experienced crane companies that the timeframe wasn’t safe. When faced with this dilemma, they went with a cheaper option of removing a million-plus-pound stator from a nuclear facility. It gets worse.
No load test.
The safety rules and regulations require a load test be conducted to ensure the lift system can pick up the heavy stator. Based on public information and reports from the NRC, Entergy, Siemens, Bigge, and other parties involved knew that a load test must be conducted.
Knowing a load test must be conducted, knowing many people would be at the facility during this lift, knowing nuclear exposure is a risk to the citizens of Russellville and Arkansas, did Entergy, Siemens, and Bigge conduct a load test?
NO. An investigation has taken place and it is undisputed that a load test did not occur.
At 7:40 on Easter morning, the stator was lifted for the process of moving to the turbine deck. While families gathered in back yards to watch their children hunt for eggs, these workers were hard at work. One man in particular, Wade Walters, was working away the final minutes of his young life.
At 7:42 a.m., the stator pushed debris left in its travel path toward the train bay opening. The debris was possibly a large wooden crate. When the lift plan was designed, there was no mention of a requirement to remove the railing that guarded the opening in the deck. As the stator neared the railing, suspended over everyone’s heads, it was realized the stator wouldn’t be able to get through. It appears, ironworkers and carpenters were called in to remove the railing while the move was still in motion. One of those workers was Wade.
The railing was removed and once finished, everyone stood to the outside of the designated danger zones. A little after 7:49 a.m., the crane buckled under the weight and came crashing down. The massive stator slammed into the train bay, knocking off large chunks of concrete floor, pipes, and other pieces of construction. Several beams of the crane collapsed and actually triggered safety mechanisms that are to withstand an earthquake. The whole crew scrambled, diving for cover as huge chunks of steel rained down on top of them.
Eight were injured. One was killed … 24-year-old Wade Walters.
Knowing what you know now, would you still be able to shrug your shoulders and say, “Accidents happen.”?
The death of Wade Walters could have been avoided. Now it was time to prove it.
TO BE CONTINUED.
Learn more about Wade Walters and see how Entergy and other parties involved reacted to this tragedy in Part Two of Wrongful Death: The Story of Wade Walters and Arkansas Nuclear One. Much of the above sources are the filed complaints of the plaintiffs in this action, news sources, and public information from government agencies.