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Category Archives: Operating Reactors

Back To Where We Were For North Anna New Reactor Environmental Review

Tamsen Dozier
Project Manager
Office of New Reactors

It’s not often we have to say “never mind,” but that applies to what had been potential changes to our environmental review for a new reactor in Virginia. Multiple changes in the proposed design for the North Anna application have eliminated one reason to supplement our work.

naDominion Virginia applied in November 2007 to build and operate a new reactor at the company’s North Anna site, northwest of Richmond. This would be the third North Anna reactor, co-located with the two that have operated safely since 1978 and 1980. Dominion’s original application proposed building General Electric-Hitachi’s Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor.

The NRC’s review includes examining issues as required by the National Environmental Policy Act. Dominion had addressed many of these environmental questions by successfully obtaining an Early Site Permit for the North Anna site before applying for a reactor license. The NRC does an additional review when considering a reactor license application. We held meetings with the local community and also got input from state officials and other federal agencies. We examined all this information before publishing a supplement to the permit’s environmental review, evaluating the possible construction and operation of the GE design at North Anna.

In 2011, Dominion amended its application to reflect the company’s change to a different reactor design. At that point we decided we’d need another supplement to the EIS to evaluate any changes in the previously evaluated impacts. In 2013 Dominion changed course again, returning to GE’s design. Since we’ve already documented our environmental review for the GE design, there’s no longer a need for a supplement for any design changes. We just published a notice to this effect in the Federal Register (Jan. 29, 2015).

Beyond these design changes, NRC regulations require more reviews for additional substantial application changes or if significant new environmental information comes to light. We’ll keep looking for project changes or new information and we’ll prepare a supplement if one’s needed.

Additional Scrutiny at Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant Set to Continue

Neil Sheehan
Public Affairs Officer
Region I

Update: As a follow-up, the NRC is launching a Special Inspection today (Monday, Feb. 2) at the Pilgrim nuclear power plant in response to the shutdown that occurred at the Plymouth, Mass., facility on Jan. 27. The six-member team will review equipment issues experienced during the shutdown, including the partial loss of off-site power. The results of the NRC inspection will be made publicly available within 45 days of the inspection’s completion.

Last fall, a team of NRC inspectors was tasked with evaluating whether issues at the Pilgrim nuclear power plant that triggered increased agency oversight had been satisfactorily addressed. That team has now returned its findings in the form of a newly issued inspection report.

pilgrimAnd the answer – at least at this point in time – is that Entergy, the Plymouth, Mass., plant’s owner, still has some more work to do.

Specifically, although the eight-member team has determined that, in general, the company’s problem identification, root cause evaluation and corrective action plans were adequate, it has identified deficiencies in the implementation of corrective action plans, as well as in understanding of the issues’ causes.

In its report, the team cites several examples where fixes were not completed as intended or were closed prematurely.

As a result, per agency protocols, the NRC is assigning two “parallel” “white” (low to moderate safety significance) inspection findings to Pilgrim. The findings will administratively replace two “white” performance indicators that initially led to the plant receiving additional scrutiny.

The net effect will be the plant will continue to receive heightened attention until the NRC can perform a follow-up team inspection and is satisfied the concerns have been resolved. The NRC will conduct that additional inspection once Entergy notifies the agency of its readiness for it.

To back up for a moment, the Pilgrim plant’s performance indicator for Unplanned Scrams (shutdowns) with Complications crossed the threshold from “green” to “white” following the third quarter of 2013. Then, in the fourth quarter of last year, the performance indicator for Unplanned Scrams per 7,000 Hours of Operation also changed to “white,” something that occurs if a plant has more than three such shutdowns during the designated period.

This placed Pilgrim in the Degraded Cornerstone Column of the Action Matrix used by the NRC to assess plant performance.

Pilgrim has not had any unplanned scrams since October 2013, and the performance indicators discussed above are currently “green.” But the assignment of the white findings will keep the plant in the Degraded Cornerstone Column pending successful completion of the supplemental inspection.

The NRC intends to discuss the inspection results during the Annual Assessment meeting for the plant. That meeting will likely take place in March near the plant, but a date, time and location have not yet been firmed up.

 

Nuclear Power Plants Ready For Major Winter Storm

Neil Sheehan
Public Affairs Officer
Region I

winterstorm

Update: The Pilgrim nuclear power plant experienced an automatic shutdown, or scram, early Tuesday amid Winter Storm Juno (as dubbed by the Weather Channel). Here is additional information:

Entergy had sequestered staff on-site prior to the storm. The NRC also had an inspector stationed on-site overnight. Reactor power was reduced to 75 percent overnight, per procedures, as the grid experienced voltage fluctuations. Operators started the plant’s two emergency diesel generators and transferred electrical loads for safety systems to those on-site power supplies due to concerns with off-site power.

One of two 345-kilovolt offsite lines was deenergized due to weather concerns. At about 52 percent power, the second 345-kilovolt line that provides off-site power to the plant tripped, resulting in a reactor shutdown, or scram, at about 4 a.m. (Nuclear power plants not only generate power and send it to the grid, they also receive a certain amount of power from the grid for operational purposes.)

A third off-site power line, a 23-kilovolt line, remains available. However, the emergency diesel generators for now remain the primary source of power for safety systems. The reactor was safely shut down, with plant safety systems performing as expected. The exact cause of the loss of the 345-KV power lines is still being investigated.

Entergy intends to take the reactor to “cold” shutdown. NRC inspectors will continue to monitor plant activities and efforts to restore off-site power, as well as any troubleshooting and repair work.

 

The atmospheric stars have aligned once again to produce a powerful mid-winter storm aimed squarely at coastal areas in the Northeastern United States. Officials in a broad swath stretching from New Jersey to Maine have been warning residents to prepare for a blizzard that could produce prodigious amounts of snow, hurricane-force winds and dangerous travel conditions.

There are several nuclear power plants in the storm’s path and the personnel at those facilities will not be sitting back and simply awaiting its arrival. Plant procedures call for multiple checks and preparations in advance of such a winter blast.

Among other things, plant personnel will ensure that doors designed to prevent flooding are ready to perform their task; fuel oil tanks for emergency generators are appropriately filled; and the site grounds do not have loose objects which could become airborne amid strong winds and cause damage.

On a related note, the NRC will be monitoring those preparations and stationing inspectors to keep watch on the plants as they weather the storm. An inspection procedure and checklist dealing with adverse weather protections will guide the inspectors as they conduct those assessments.

It’s important to note that all nuclear power plants have technical specifications that dictate how they have to respond to a significant storm. As an example, if wind speeds are in excess of specified limits, a plant would have to shut down.

Safety at nuclear power plants is never taken for granted, and that is certainly true when storms can present additional challenges for operators. The NRC will be keeping watch until the most potent storm of the winter of 2014-15 to hit the Northeast thus far has headed out to sea.

 

Pursuit Of Metal Can be Costly, If Not Deadly

Neil Sheehan
Public Affairs Officer
Region I

Copper is a valuable metal that, increasingly in recent years, has been the target of thieves hoping to pocket some quick cash by selling it to scrapyards.

copperPiping made with the material has been stolen from unoccupied homes and businesses. Copper downspouts have been snatched from churches. Even cemeteries have not been immune, as copper flag holders placed at the graves of veterans have been plundered. Cable-TV network CNBC reported in 2013 that copper thefts were ‘like an epidemic’ sweeping the nation.

Unfortunately, the energy sector has not been immune. In early January of this year, the Orlando Sentinel reported that thieves in central Florida had made off with about 42 miles of copper wire.

Non-radioactive copper wire also has been stolen from or close to switchyards located near several U.S. nuclear power plants. (No thefts from the “Protected Area,” or high-security, zone at the plants have occurred, and robust security measures help ensure that should continue to be the case.)

Some examples of the metal pilfering:

  • More than 1,400 pounds of scrap copper were stolen from a storage building near a switchyard at the Beaver Valley nuclear power plant in April 2013. The building was located outside the security perimeter at the western Pennsylvania facility. Police subsequently arrested a mother and son in connection with the incident.
  • New York State Police announced in January 2013 that two workers at the Indian Point nuclear power plant had been charged with stealing several thousand pounds of copper and other scrap from the site. Tens of thousands of dollars from the sale of the spools of excess wire were pocketed by the now former employees, police said.
  • In August 2012, police arrested four individuals who made off with copper from multiple electrical substations in the Philadelphia suburbs, including one at the Limerick nuclear power plant. The theft almost cost one of the thieves his life in a near-electrocution.

Between security patrols and other NRC-required measures, U.S. nuclear power plants are among the most fortified parts of the energy infrastructure while switchyards have not been, generally speaking, subject to the same level of security attention. That said, the good news is the utilities that own and operate the switchyards have been taking steps to deter future thefts.

For instance, Con Edison, based in New York, announced last year that it had begun using markings on copper wire only visible under ultraviolet light, making it easier to track where the material originated and thereby identify theft suspects.

Also, Pennsylvania-headquartered PPL, which operates the Susquehanna nuclear power plant, said it was bolstering security measures at substations and notifying scrapyard owners to be on the lookout for large quantities of copper wire that could have been taken from switchyards. Further, FirstEnergy and Ohio Edison said last September that they planned to install security fencing and monitoring systems at some of its substations in an effort to deter metal thieves.

As with all issues that surface at U.S. power reactors, the NRC staff is always made aware when theft incidents occur, and the agency’s security and safety experts would engage plant operators on potential implications and preventive actions.

The sudden loss of power from a nearby switchyard could potentially impact the operations of a nuclear power plant, making it a very bad idea. But it’s also illegal and potentially fatal for the thief. As PPL put it when it rolled out its campaign, “Copper – It’s not to die for.”

 

Improving Our Aim for Consistent Reactor Oversight

Scott Morris
Director, Division of Inspection and Regional Support

Climate, geography and even accent may vary from state to state, but NRC’s regulations don’t, — and neither should our approach to applying them. So when someone suggests we might do a better job in consistently carrying out our mission, we listen carefully and act accordingly. We’ve followed this approach in following up on a September 2013 report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

npp3The GAO looked at how our Reactor Oversight Process objectively examines reactor safety based on inspection results and performance statistics. The report said we consistently and accurately respond to significant issues.

The GAO found, however, that the NRC’s four regional offices produced varied results when assessing the least-significant issues, such as improper maintenance for minor electrical transformers at a plant. While this programmatic variation fell short of creating a safety issue, the report recommended we look into this inconsistency.

Staff from our Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation studied the regions’ approach to evaluating the least safety-significant inspection findings. The study also examined regional differences in dealing with “non-escalated enforcement” matters — plants must correct these issues, but they frequently fall short of the criteria for a formal NRC finding.

The staff’s study consisted of conducting “table-top” exercises to see how each region reviewed very low-significance issues. The study listened to resident inspectors at the plants as well as region-based inspectors and their supervisors.

The staff’s study and discussions with regional management and staff, along with some employees at headquarters, led to a few conclusions. First, the staff confirmed the results of the GAO’s review that there are indeed regional differences in implementing some reactor oversight program guidance. Secondly, the NRC’s guidance could benefit from some clarification to help the inspectors when it comes to evaluating very-low-significance issues. Finally, the agency’s annual self-assessments of the entire oversight process to date have been focused on dealing with significant issues, so the assessments didn’t consider or evaluate the regional differences with the least safety-significant inspection findings. This meant the inconsistencies went on longer than they otherwise might have.

The staff’s study looked at potential causes for the varying regional approaches. One area showed the agency devotes a lot of effort to training but that training and knowledge management results weren’t always shared as widely as possible. This meant that potential inconsistencies in training across regions should be addressed. The staff’s study saw no connection between inspector experience and the regional differences.

The staff’s study showed that the NRC can improve its objectivity and predictability in dealing with very-low-significance inspection findings. Management in the Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation will consider changes that include enhancing review procedures, standardizing inspector training and revising the self-assessment process.

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