We gathered at the NRC’s Region III office near Chicago on a recent Saturday morning to continue our dialogue with the public about the Palisades nuclear plant. We decided to host our second webinar on this plant on a Saturday in response to a request from members of the public to hold it at a time when people aren’t at work.
Close to 100 people listened to the NRC’s presentation by four representatives of the Region III staff and asked questions on a wide range of questions on recent problems at Palisades.
The purpose of the webinar was to talk about the NRC’s regulations on a specific category of leaks – including the leaks that occurred at Palisades in 2012 – and the NRC’s response to these leaks. They are called “through-wall” leaks because they come through the wall of pipes and other plant components important to safety.
Resident inspectors stationed at every nuclear plant in the country continuously monitor any such leaks making sure they are properly understood and handled. Leaks that have no safety impact are not regulated by the NRC.
NRC’s regulations on through-wall leaks are based on the safety significance of the affected equipment. Leaks from the pressure retaining boundary of the reactor coolant system are not allowed and must be fixed right away. Other types of leaks may not require immediate repair but must be fixed before they have a negative impact on plant safety.
We talked about four through-wall leaks identified at Palisades last year; one of these was discovered by an NRC Resident Inspector during a routine daily inspection. Even though these leaks did not compromise plant safety, they concerned us because of their frequency. The agency decided to commit additional resources this year to evaluate these leaks and determine whether they represent a weakness in the plant’s maintenance program.
Three of the four leaks at Palisades have been fixed. The remaining leak from a refueling water tank is closely monitored and will be repaired according to NRC regulations.
We informed the public when the leaks at Palisades were discovered even though the NRC doesn’t normally make public notifications on leaks of very small safety significance. This was done in response to requests from many people to be informed about such issues at the plant.
We will continue the high level of engagement with the public near the Palisades plant to meet the agency’s goal of openness and transparency. Additional webinars on reactor vessel head embrittlement and environmental monitoring are already in the works. In addition, the NRC staff will have a booth at the Garden and Leisure Show in Benton Harbor, Mich., March 15-17.