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

Author: Moderator

Public Affairs Officer for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

11 thoughts on “Mid-Term Grades Go Out For Nuclear Power Plants”

  1. Thanks for the great information. Before we build nuclear plants, we must solve the problem of nuclear waste.

    Solar energy, radiant light and heat from the sun, has been harnessed by humans since ancient times using a range of ever-evolving technologies. The Sun produces an amazing amount of light and heat through nuclear reactions. The point is that Americans need affordable and safe nuclear energy (electricity) to enjoy the challenges and comforts provided by the 21st century technology. Some of the Alternative Technologies for these energy needs are too expensive and unreliable.
    No Government, Rules, Organization, Technology, Safety and Design Features, and Quality Assurance/Inspection Procedures can guarantee 100% the protection of human beings from radiological accidents caused by Natural Disasters, Tests and Experiments, Equipment Failures, Organizational Weakness, Poor Maintenance Practices and Human Errors.
     Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Catastrophe was a series of equipment failures, nuclear meltdowns, and releases of radioactive materials, following the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami on 11 March 2011. The battle to contain the contamination and avert a greater catastrophe ultimately involved undetermined number of workers and cost undetermined amount of money, crippling the Japanese economy
     The Chernobyl disaster was a catastrophic nuclear accident that occurred on 26 April 1986 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine, which was under the direct jurisdiction of the central authorities of the Soviet Union. An explosion and fire released large quantities of radioactive contamination into the atmosphere, which spread over much of Western USSR and Europe. The battle to contain the contamination and avert a greater catastrophe ultimately involved over 500,000 workers and cost an estimated 18 billion rubles, crippling the Soviet economy.
     The Three Mile Island accident was a partial nuclear meltdown, which occurred at the Three Mile Island power plant in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, United States on March 28, 1979. It was the worst accident in U.S. commercial nuclear power plant history and resulted in the release of small amounts of radioactive gases and radioactive iodine into the environment. According to the IAEA, the Three Mile Island accident was a significant turning point in the global development of nuclear power. From 1963–1979, the number of reactors under construction globally increased every year except 1971 and 1978. However, following the event, the number of reactors under construction in the U.S. declined every year from 1980-1998 in total, 51 American nuclear reactors were canceled from 1980–1984.
     At noon on March 22, 1975, both Units 1 and 2 at the Brown’s Ferry plant in Alabama were operating at full power, delivering 2200 megawatts of electricity to the Tennessee Valley Authority. The real irony of the Browns Ferry fire was that two days before, a similar fire had started but had been put out successfully. After the fire on Thursday night, the shift engineers and three assistant shift engineers met. According to one of them, “We discussed among the group the procedure of using lighted candles to check for air leaks. Our conclusion was that the procedure should be stopped. Yet nothing was done.

    The issues is about production of cheap and safe electricity and meeting NRC reasonable assurance by the Licensee for the safe operation of a Nuclear Power Plant and excellence in plant management, operations, maintenance, financial discipline, regulatory compliance, configuration control, fire/safety, nuclear and engineering training, work process planning, quality assurance, emergency preparedness, transparency with workers, public, media, regulators and offsite agencies, ensuring freedom from retaliation, intimidation, and harassment from expressing nuclear safety concerns. The verbatim compliance will provide the adequate protection of safety and health against radiological accidents. The protection of public safety and health is the overriding obligation of the Licensee and Excellence implies being 100% correct.

    The World’s Foremost Renowned Professeur Titulaire, Michel J. Pettigrew, Ecole Polytechnique de Montreal, on the subject of fluid elastic instability and turbulence-induced vibration states, “It is concluded that, although there are still areas of uncertainty, most flow-induced vibration problems can be avoided provided that nuclear components are properly analysed at the design stage and that the analyses are supported by adequate testing and development work when required. There has been no case yet where vibration considerations have seriously constrained the designer.”

    One Masters Research Student R. Viollette states, “Fluid elastic instability is the most important vibration excitation mechanism for heat exchanger, or steam generator type of tube bundles. It is so because of the very high vibrations amplitude that it can induce to the tubes, which can lead to rapid failure by fatigue or wear. Also, unlike vibrations induced by vortex shedding (vortex-induced vibrations), fluid elastic instability is not a self-limiting phenomenon: amplitude of vibrations does continue to increase with velocity past the critical onset of the instability.

    Based on a review of Industry Benchmarking and Operating Experience, the DAB Team concludes, “To minimize the risk of a radiological accident and impact to public health and safety due to a potential radiological accident and radiation / contamination exposure requires some of the following attributes between the designer, manufacturer, installer, maintainer and the operator during the design, fabrication and operation of the nuclear steam generators components (not limited to): Solid teamwork and alignment, critical investigative and questioning attitude, flow of information in a timely and accurate manner, self-check, peer check, independent check, industry bench and vendor marking, review of industry operating experience, NRC Reports, Information Notices, prudence, diligence and attention to detail, verification/validation mock-up test data , computer modeling accuracy and review of critical parameters. The industry papers research indicate that the fluid elastic instability is a very complex problem and causes immense unprecedented problems as witnessed in the SONGS RSGs, when the undesired effects of the flow fields have not been accounted and corrected in the design, manufacturing and testing. In many situations, however, after components are already in operation, modifications/repairs to correct the flow-induced vibrations resulting in fluid elastic instability are very pain staking, time consuming, extremely complex to diagnose/repair and immensely costly to the Utility and Ratepayers.”

    This is an interpretation by The DAB Safety Team of the basic facts essential for the promotion and production of affordable and safe nuclear power. This interpretation is consistent with His Excellency President Obama’s, Honorable Senator Barbara Boxer’s Open Government Initiative, and NRC’s Solemn Obligation and Transparency with the Public and News Media. This basic understanding is also in conformance with Nuclear Energy Institute Charter/Guidance on safe and cheap power and Institute of Nuclear Power Operations Principles regarding operations, training and management for licensee and workers responsible for the operation of a nuclear power plant. Therefore no reply or moderation of these comments is required, unless NRC choses to do so.

  3. I am in the Houston Texas area. I didn’t see any mentioned for Texas. I guess I will have to do some research to see if we have any close to me, because I wouldn’t want any real estate close to a nuclear power plant.

  4. When folks think Real Estate or Location, Location, Location, one of the most important things is:
    “How close am I and or are we downwind from a potential Nuclear Reactor Meltdown”

    Lets use Southern California as an example:

    What would happen to property values in SoCal if SORE, (San Onofre Reactor Emergency) suffered a meltdown like Fukushima for ANY reason, like an EQ (Earth Quake), terrorism, Tsunami, operator error or just “because it can”?

    Per the NRC: Fact Sheet on Nuclear Insurance and Disaster Relief http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/fact-sheets/funds-fs.html

    In short, if there is more than $12 Billion in damages, residents are left holding a empty radioactive bag! This is only a tiny fraction of what it will cost in Fukushima, which is estimated to be about a Trillion Dollar Eco-Disaster!

    What is the value of all the homes and Commercial property downwind of SORE?
    Probably at least several TRILLION dollars…

    Here is a great graphic that will help everyone visualize what is downwind of any of the US reactors! NRDC Nuclear Fallout Map: http://www.nrdc.org/nuclear/fallout/
    Just click on a reactor and zoom in… (BTW: These are conservative fallout estimates).

    Where will the US Government get the REST of the money if it happened at SORE (or a reactor where you live) next week, probably from Social Security and or Medicare? Where will people relocate to for how long, Las Vegas and or Yuma?

    In reality, ALL those affected are doomed! Many hundreds of thousands are still living in nuclear refugee camps in Japan and it has been about a year and a half since their triple meltdowns which are BTW still sending radioactive pollution Globally!

  5. This is great the plants are in good working order but I want joint owners of the plants to insure that there will not be another melt down, the owners will be legally responsible for their statements and all loses caused by their plant melt downs. Also private insurances will not insure for plant caused accidents of physical, health and death, so some one other then the public must insure other governments that they will be allowed to sue other countries for damages from their Power Plants (I believe the major countries have already passed this in secrecy because by international laws it just takes a small quorum to put it into law without public knowledge. If insurance companies will not put up insurance then it is too risky a venture and must be stopped and existing plants cannot get insurance then they will suffer the same faith.

  6. Please see all the SORE (San Onofre Reactor Emergency) comments on the previous NRC Blog:
    Meeting the Challenges of the Next SONGS Meeting…

    It is a real pity that the NRC cannot allow blog posts to appear in REAL-Time; to do otherwise is to limit actual discussion on any topic the NRC posts… Do we have to write the new NRC Chairwomen directly or can someone else make a decision to speed up the moderation to no more than 5 minutes, which should be plenty of time to filter out the crazy comments from actual comments?
    First Posted on 09/17/12 at 12:05 EST

  7. Attention Kevin M. Roche, P.E.

    Be advised, I grade your evaluation of San Onofre reactors as an F

    San Onofre has been in shutdown mode since Jan. 31, 2012 for SG tube failures because they told the NRC that they were doing a “like for like” replacement and then did something very different! Now they have laid off half their workforce, and may never restart!

    Much more here:
    San Onofre nuclear plant could be offline until 2013
    Comment snip
    According to SONGS Insiders, MHI and SCE were in San Juan Capistrano Last week discussing MHI Role in the Repairs of SONGS Units 2 & 3 and the return of $137 million dollars warrantee money. These sources say MHI is not budging from their position that all the work was performed by MHI in accordance with SCE Design and Performance Specifications and SCE Engineers approved all the testing and documents.

    NRC reports point several deficiencies with MHI work (e.g., Thermal-Hydraulic Computer Code under estimated the Margin to Fluid Elastic Stability, Wrong Design of Unit 2 Retainer Bars, Welding Defects in Unit 3 Divider Plate, Use of Mock-up Test data not Specific to SONGs, etc.). The deficiencies with SCE’s work are hidden or not explained in the AIT Report. According to insiders, the negotiations involve one rep from both companies, and if both of them disagree, then both SCE/MHI select a third person for arbitration. Let us say, MHI gives the money back to SCE, is SCE or CPCU going to return the 1 Billion Dollars to the ratepayers or their shareholders?

    Here are some advanced questions for the Public and all the Reporters to ask the NRC prior to the Public Meeting scheduled for San Onofre on Oct. 9, 2012:

    1. Has the MHI Root Cause Evaluation been completed and available for Public Viewing on the NRC Website?

    2. When will the SCE Restart Plan and supporting documents be available for Public Viewing on the NRC Website?

    3. Will the NRC Chairwoman, other Commissioners and/or Senator Barbara Boxer be available at the Public Meeting to assure public of a thorough, unbiased and complete investigation by NRC?

    4. Besides SCE, will MHI Representatives be available to answer questions by the Public Groups?

    5. Which interest groups will be consulted to have representation on the Table? How many Representatives? Who will decide?

    Friends of the Earth

    Fairewinds Energy Education

    San Clemente Green

    The Committee to Bridge the Gap

    The General Public

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