Leaks raised alarm in Halden, Mongstad

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Norway has been hit by some scary leaks in the past few days, also because one of them failed to be reported for around 20 hours. It involved “accidental release of radioactive iodine” from a reactor that’s soon to be shut down, and authorities were not pleased.

PHOTO: Wikipedia

The reactor hall in Halden reportedly has been “hermetically sealed” following Monday’s leak. PHOTO: Wikipedia

“This was not not good enough,” admitted research director Atle Valseth at Norway’s Institute for Energy Technology (IFE) to Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) Tuesday afternoon. Neither he nor the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority (Statens strålevern) were alerted about the leak at IFE’s reactor in Halden until Tuesday morning.

Leakage of Jod 131, a radioactive iodine in gas form, began early Monday afternoon in connection with a welding accident, according to NRK. The leak reportedly was not large and the reactor hall was closed and sealed off immediately. All personnel were also evacuated.

When the authorities were finally informed, they launched an immediate examination of the premises and alerted the public in the form of a press release. They were as unhappy as Valseth that personnel on the scene failed to react more quickly.

“That is not good,” Per Strand of the radiation authority told local newspaper Halden Arbeiderblad. “It’s not in line with what we expect or with the routines IFE is supposed to follow.”

‘Hermetically sealed’
Valseth agreed, saying routines were not followed. “We want to be completely open about what has happened from the minute (the leak occurred) and until we contacted the authorities,” he told NRK, which reported Tuesday afternoon that the reactor hall in Halden was polluted by radioactive gas but was “hermetically sealed,” according to IFE.

The authorities said Tuesday afternoon that “elevated radiation levels” were still being measured within the reactor hall, as IFE workers continued to assess the situation and identify the cause of the leak. IFI switched off the ventilation system in the reactor hall and the authorities have a team on the site, measuring and “clarifying” radiactivity levels around the plant. They concluded that based on information received from IFE, “our assessment is that the discharge will not have any impact on people or the environment.” IFE estimated the amount of radioactive iodine released equals around 5-8 percent of what’s legally allowed to be released annually.

Strand said that the regulatory priority now was for IFE to plug the leak. “We are in continuous contact with IFE,” Stand said. “We will start a new inspection round … to uncover how this could happe and why we were not informed until the day after.” (For more information from the authorities, click here – external link).

Gas leak at Mongstad
In another incident on Tuesday afternoon, around 600 employees at Statoil’s large refinery at Mongstad on Norway’s West Coast were also evacuated after hydrogen gas leaked from a gasoline facility. Production was halted immediately and there were no reports of any injuries.

“There’s been a gas leak, and in line with instructions at Mongstad, the evacuation alarm was issued,” Statoil spokesman Morten Ek told NRK. The leak was quickly plugged and remaining gas in the system was “burned out,” resulting in flames and smoke emitting from the chimneys at the sprawling industrial facility.

An investigation was underway to determine the cause of the leak. The “danger over” message was issued at 2:30pm, around an hour after the first alarm rang at 1:15pm. The gasoline production facility remained closed, however.

Ironically, both leaks occurred just as a major emergency preparedness exercise was playing out in the Grenland area around Porsgrunn and Skien, where large industrial firms like Yara regularly deal with hazardous substances and gases. The defense department had also just raised alarms over a lack of security at some oil and gas facilities like Mongstad, which could be vulnerable to terrorist attacks. Newspaper VG reported that gas plants located on the mainland were not as well secured as those offshore.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund