The United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) announced on Wednesday that they will be stepping up the oversight at Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant in Plymouth. The announcement was made following the release of an inspection finding of low-to-moderate safety significance.
This enforcement action will move Pilgrim into the Repetitive Degraded Cornerstone Column (Column 4) of the NRC’s Action Matrix. The Entergy-owned plant was placed in the Degraded Cornerstone Column (Column 3) following “unplanned shutdowns and unplanned shutdowns with complications” in 2013, according to an NRC release.
Pilgrim’s drop to Column 4, as it is otherwise known, puts the plant one column above Column 5 (Unacceptable Performance).
Findings from a December 2014 inspection indicated that Entergy “had not adequately evaluated the causes of those shutdowns and that some of the corrective actions had not been completed as intended or were closed out prematurely,” the release said. There was better news for Entergy following a May 2014 inspection, then more bad news following the January 2015 inspection prompted by a storm-induced unplanned shutdown. The findings from the January 2015 inspection prompted the downgrade from Column 3 to Column 4.
“The most recent finding highlights the continuing weakness in the implementation of Entergy’s program for identifying, evaluating and resolving problems at Pilgrim,” said NRC Region I Administrator Dan Dorman.
“Our increased oversight will focus on understanding the reasons for those weaknesses and the actions need to achieve sustained improvement,” Dorman added.
Based on the most recent inspection findings , NCR said Entergy could have prevented the January 27, 2015 safety valve problem had they “properly identified, evaluated and corrected a condition” that caused a valve failure on February 9, 2013. Failing to correct the valve condition is also a violation of NRC requirements, the release said.
According to the NRC, all of the valves in question were replaced with a valve of a different design during Pilgrim’s scheduled shutdown for maintenance which began in April and lasted 35 days.
Entergy was given the opportunity to respond to the recent findings and a regulator conference was held on July 8. Entergy asserted that two of the safety relief valves remained fully-operational during the event and that two would have functioned under high pressure levels. Entergy further stated that redundant safety equipment would have worked in place of the valves and requested that the findings be reclassified as “very low safety significance”. The NRC disagreed and the finding remains “low-to-moderate safety significance”. NRC’s decision to not change the status was based on the likelihood that the valves would not function as needed based in part, on “as-found” and “historical” degradation.
In response to NRC’s announcement, Bill Mohl, President, Entergy Wholesale Commodities, released the following statement:
"Over the coming days Entergy will review the details of the NRC’s decision to consider what actions we need to take to enable Pilgrim Station to return to normal NRC oversight.
While we are confident that Pilgrim continues to be a safely operated plant with highly professional and well-trained employees, we will review all the information and feedback provided by the NRC in order to continue to enhance our performance at the station.
Pilgrim has previously addressed all of the issues with the Safety Relief Valve since the NRC first issued its preliminary white finding and the plant is operating safely. There was no safety consequence as a result of the problematic Safety Relief Valve issue."
Of the NRC announcement, Senator Vinny deMacedo (R-Plymouth) said, “I am pleased that the NRC will continue to focus its attention on Pilgrim Station to ensure that it continues to operate in a safe manner. Protecting the health and safety of the residents of Plymouth and the region must remain our highest priority.”
The state senator said he plans to reach out to Governor Baker and fellow state and federal representatives to ask that they join him in requesting a meeting with NRC. Governor Baker, according to the State House News Service, told reporters on Wednesday, “I do believe it’s safe, yeah.” Governor Baker said Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) officials are in “constant contact” with NRC.
US Senator Edward Markey said, “NRC must continue this aggressive oversight until Entergy can prove unequivocally that it has dedicated the resources, manpower and training to guarantee the safe and secure operation of this reactor.” Attorney General Maura Healey added, “Today’s decision is a disturbing development, and my primary concern is with the safety and well-being of the residents of Massachusetts, particularly those who live near Pilgrim. Entergy must act swiftly and decisively to correct these issues and restore the public's trust in its ability to safely operate this plant.”
The Entergy-owned plant made recent headlines this summer after two workers failed fitness-for-duty tests.