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A fluke mishap last year at Progress Energy’s Brunswick nuclear plant near Wilmington, NC, was the result of a the lack of worker qualification and that necessary training had lapsed for more than a decade, nuclear safety officials said.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issued its preliminary findings Wednesday, but it is continuing its investigation to determine the safety significance of the incident.

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The unusual mishap that shut down the Brunswick Unit 2 reactor last November may be the only such incident in U.S. nuclear history.

The Brunswick plant’s boiling water nuclear reactor vessel functions like a giant teapot, producing steam to power an electric generator. The steam builds up under pressure contained by a tightly sealed lid.

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But last November, mildly radioactive water bubbled out of the chamber rather than boiling inside under pressure to form steam. At one point the water was flowing out at a rate of over 10 gallons a minute, about 100 times more volume than would flow out under normal circumstances.

NRC investigators concluded the lid was improperly attached after a refueling outage because maintenance workers did not have proper training in reactor vessel disassembly and reassembly. Qualification for this kind of work hadn’t been provided since 2000, the NRC said in its assessment.

Nine of the 12 workers who performed the reactor vessel assembly did not have the proper qualifications. Some received “just-in-time” (i.e., last-minute) training before the fall 2011 refueling outage.

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