Mid-Term Grades Go Out For Nuclear Power Plants

The NRC last week issued “mid-cycle assessment letters” to the nation’s nuclear power plants, a semi-annual report card on their performance. It’s very much like the annual assessments we issued and blogged about last March – consider it a mid-term grade, covering the first two quarters of the year, through June 30.

Looking at the big picture, 96 of the nation’s 104 reactors were in the two highest performance categories. Here’s how the entire fleet performed:

• Sixty-two reactors fully met all safety and security performance objectives and were inspected by NRC using the normal “baseline” inspection program.

• Thirty-four reactors were assessed as needing to resolve one or two items of low safety significance. For this performance level, regulatory oversight includes additional inspection and attention to follow up on corrective actions. These plants are Braidwood 2 (Ill.); Browns Ferry 2 and 3 (Ala.); Brunswick 1 and 2 (N.C.); Callaway (Mo.); Calvert Cliffs 1 and 2 (Md.); Crystal River 3 (Fla.); Farley 1 and 2 (Ala.); Fermi 2 (Mich.); Limerick 2 (Pa.); Millstone 2 (Conn.); North Anna 1 and 2 (Va.); Palo Verde 1, 2 and 3 (Ariz.); Pilgrim (Mass.); Point Beach 1 and 2 (Wis.); Prairie Island 1 and 2 (Minn.); River Bend (La.); San Onofre 2 and 3 (Calif.); Seabrook (N.H.); Susquehanna 1 (Pa.); Turkey Point 3 and 4 (Fla.); Waterford (La.); Watts Bar (Tenn.) and Wolf Creek (Kans.).

• Six nuclear reactors were in the third performance category with a degraded level of performance. For this category, regulatory oversight includes more NRC inspections, senior management attention and oversight focused on the cause of the degraded performance. These plants were: Hope Creek (N.J.); Palisades (Mich.); Perry 1 (Ohio); Saint Lucie 1 (Fla.) and Salem 1 and 2 (N.J.).

• One reactor, Browns Ferry 1 in Alabama, is in the fourth performance category and requires increased oversight due to a safety finding of high significance, which will include additional inspections to confirm the plant’s performance issues are being addressed.

• Fort Calhoun plant in Nebraska is in an extended shutdown with significant performance issues and is currently under a special NRC oversight program distinct from the normal performance levels. Therefore the plant will not receive a mid-cycle assessment letter.

Comparing these lists to the 2011 annual assessments issued last March, there is an increase in the number of plants now at the second performance level, requiring some additional NRC oversight – from 11 at the end of December to 34 at the end of June.

Looked at in the historical context, however, the number is not particularly high. Several factors can influence this:

• Recent plant performance has been quite good, with a greater number of plants than usual in Column 1.

• We recently reintegrated the security cornerstone into the action matrix, and this resulted in a dozen plants “shifting” into the second performance level on the public Website even though they were already in the second performance level of the previously separate security assessment program. That’s about half the increase.

• Plants tend to move back and forth between the first two performance categories as issues are identified and then resolved. Remember, these are issues of LOW safety significance, and the Reactor Oversight Process is designed to identify and resolve such issues before they become major problems.

In fact, since June, seven plants have resolved their issues and transitioned back into the highest-performing category. These are Callaway, Calvert 1 and 2, Crystal River 3, Limerick 2, Waterford, and Watts Bar. So just since the end of June, the numbers have improved. The NRC will continue to assess plant performance and respond with the appropriate supplemental inspections as dictated by the assessment process.

The NRC routinely provides changes to information on each plant’s current performance and posts the latest information as it becomes available to the action matrix summary. The mid-cycle assessment letters sent to each operating reactor licensee are also available through the NRC’s Web page on the Reactor Oversight Process. Mid-cycle construction assessments for new reactors at the Vogtle and Summer sites and at Watts Bar 2 are also on the NRC website.

Every six months each plant receives either a mid-cycle or annual assessment letter along with an NRC inspection plan. This year’s mid-cycle assessments also include security findings after the recent reintegration of the security cornerstone into the Reactor Oversight Process action matrix.

These assessments document the NRC’s efforts to ensure the safety of the nation’s nuclear power plants and demonstrate our commitment to making this information available to the public in a clear and easy-to-understand manner.

Kevin M. Roche, P.E.
Operating Reactor Performance Assessment Lead