Pilgrim gets slap on wrist from NRC for a cooling system leak that occurred during winter storm Juno (Jan. 2015) – a problem that was not addressed for a year. Read the Cape Cod Time article below about the issue.
First of three special inspections finds nuclear plant otherwise safe.
PLYMOUTH — The Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station is operating safely, according to a report based on a special week-long federal inspection conducted in January, the first of three planned this year.
Inspectors, however, did bring up a flaw in an emergency cooling system that had been known but not addressed for nearly a year.
One of the chief concerns federal regulators have historically expressed over Pilgrim is its owners’ constant failure to follow through and get deficiencies addressed.
This latest transgression involved a water leak in the core spray system that helps cool down the reactor after sudden shutdowns. The leak had allowed air bubbles to enter the system, which could impede water flow.
The leak, one of many glitches that occurred during the blizzard in January 2015, was identified in March of that year. Yet it wasn’t entered into the plant’s action plan until January 2016, leading inspectors from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to write, “Entergy had not taken timely action to identify the source of the leakage and address the issue.”
Entergy Corp. is Pilgrim’s owner-operator.
“Pilgrim maintains the system was still operable,” NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan said. “Our concern is that had this gone on for a longer period, the flow of reactor coolant would have been significantly impeded.”
Mary Lampert, a Duxbury resident and president of Pilgrim Watch, was surprised federal regulators classified the infraction as “very low safety significance.”
“How is something of very low safety significance if it involves Entergy not fixing a problem for over a year in a key safety system,” Lampert wrote in an email. “The core spray is needed to control pressure in the core in order to avoid the containment rupturing in a loss of cooling accident and spewing radiation into the air.
“Because the god-awful did not happen, although it could have occurred, NRC gives Entergy a tap on the wrist?” Lampert said.
Spokesman Patrick O’Brien provided Entergy’s position in an email: “The finding was whether a question about the performance of one safety system during Storm Juno in January 2015 was entered into our corrective action plan in a timely manner. The system was later determined to have functioned acceptably.”
The federal report also noted that a heat load analysis concluded the control room at the plant could reach 114 degrees Fahrenheit with a loss of normal heating, ventilation and air conditioning, creating “a habitability issue” for operators. Entergy had developed a modification for a better cooling system to combat high temperatures but never installed it, the report says.
Although there are no current licensing and design basis documents that establish control room temperatures, inspectors noted heat stress management could be a problem and result in shorter stay times in the control room.
The three additional inspections were triggered by Pilgrim’s status as one of the three worst performers in the nation’s nuclear reactor fleet. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission had placed the Plymouth plant in its so-called Column 4 performance category in September because of the company’s failure to address problems that had caused several reactor shutdowns.
The focus of this recent inspection was on how well operators were addressing deficiencies found during previous inspections.
“The inspection did not find any long-standing, risk-significant issues in the corrective action program that were not addressed or assigned appropriate corrective actions and due dates,” Sheehan wrote. “However, we would note that if at any time the NRC determines that Pilgrim’s performance has declined to an unacceptable level, we will not hesitate to take additional regulatory action, up to and including the issuance of a shutdown order.”
The second special inspection is set to take place in early April.
Entergy announced in October that it plans to shut down Pilgrim sometime before mid-2019 because the reactor has become a financial loser in New England’s competitive energy market. The corporation may decide to close Pilgrim before an expensive refueling process required next spring.
– Follow Christine Legere on Twitter: @ChrisLegereCCT.