Doh! Palo Verde Nuclear Power Plant has "Unusual Event;" No Danger, Says APS

An official "unusual event" was declared at the Palo Verde Nuclear Generation Station west of Phoenix on Saturday after water in a junction box outside of reactor containment building caused an electrical short.

KTAR (92.3 FM) radio is the only outlet that appears to have reported the incident, but maybe that's because -- according to Arizona Public Service, anyway -- this is a non-story.

Jim McDonald, a spokesman for APS, told the radio station that McDonald went on to say that "some water got into a junction box. It shorted out. As a result, we declared a notification of unusual event. That is an emergency level, but a very, very, low one. The lowest one."

We're guessing that in the nuclear plant instruction manual, a meltdown would be called a "really, really, REALLY frickin' unusual" event.

Maybe this kind of "event" isn't really noteworthy. A shorted-out junction box certainly wouldn't be news at a coal plant. But nuclear plants are just so -- we'll just say it -- scary.

Not only are thousands of people at risk if radioactive gas belches out of the plant someday, but -- as the Arizona Republic pointed out midway through an article about Palo Verde's safety record -- fear of radioactivity could cause mayhem in the Phoenix area without a single contaminated molecule drifting eastward.

Palo Verde's in one of the safest areas in the country for a nuclear plant, as far as the lack of earthquakes or tsunamis. That leaves pilot error as the leading source of a potential problem.

It's worth keeping an eye on those "unusual events."

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.