NRC Reports on Oyster Creek Hurricane Performance

Photo of the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station, Unit 1, located near Forked River, N.J.
A photo of the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station, Unit 1, located near Forked River, N.J.
Courtesy:©Exelon Nuclear

Neil Sheehan
Public Affairs Officer
Region I

The NRC staff has issued the findings of the Special Inspection it conducted at the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant to review events related to “Superstorm” Sandy. The inspection was launched on Nov. 13.

Our three-member team’s primary focus was the timing of the emergency declarations at the Lacey Township (Ocean County), N.J. facility during the storm. Sandy-generated high water levels at the plant’s water intake structure, prompting first an “Unusual Event” declaration and later an “Alert” declaration.

The inspectors also reviewed preparations by Exelon, the plant’s owner, prior to the storm’s arrival; equipment performance; and overall command and control from an emergency preparedness perspective.

The inspectors’ report is now available on the NRC website. The team has concluded that the declarations were timely and accurate and that plant personnel appropriately carried out their duties during the storm.

At the same time, the inspectors did observe several areas where performance could be improved. Some examples included heightened awareness of emergency declaration thresholds, clearer documentation in control room records and ensuring reliable back-up power for the plant’s emergency operations facility.

The report also contains a company-identified violation determined to be of very low safety significance related to the use of incorrect meteorological tower data.

In general, the report underscores how plant operators dealt with the harsh conditions at the water intake structure and other challenges, such as the loss of off-site power for a time.

While the Special Inspection is finished, the NRC’s Resident Inspectors at Oyster Creek will provide additional observations about plant performance during the storm in an upcoming report.

What’s more, an NRC Petition Review Board continues working on a petition, submitted by several environmental organizations, that raises questions regarding plant performance during the storm. The board on Jan. 3rd conducted a public meeting with the petitioners to gather more information about their concerns. As NRC staff made clear, their goal was to listen to the petitioners, though the staff did explain why the NRC denied the petitioners’ request to keep Oyster Creek shut down following the storm.


A Fire at South Texas Project – How the NRC Responded

Victor Dricks
Senior Public Affairs Officer
Region IV
The Region IV Incident Response Center during an emergency exercise last month.
The Region IV Incident Response Center during an emergency exercise last month.

At 4:40 p.m. Central Time Tuesday, officials at the South Texas Project nuclear power plant near Bay City, Texas, notified the NRC’s Operations Center that a fire had broken out in the main transformer of Unit 2, causing an automatic shutdown. Unit 1 was unaffected and continued to operate at full power.

As designed, the plant’s emergency diesel generators energized to power safety-related equipment. All four auxiliary feedwater pumps started as required to supply power to the plant’s steam generators for cooling. However, power to non-safety related electrical buses was lost, cutting off power to the plant’s reactor coolant pumps. As part of the plant’s design, natural draft circulation continued to cool the plant’s shutdown reactor to remove decay heat.

The plant declared an Unusual Event – the lowest of four categories of nuclear emergency — due to the transformer fire at 4:55 p.m. The plant’s on-site fire brigade responded and quickly extinguished the blaze, so no off-site assistance was required.

The NRC’s resident inspector, who was on-site at the time, responded to the event by going to the plant’s control room to observe the licensee’s response to the event. The NRC’s Region IV Office in Arlington, Texas, activated its Incident Response Center to monitor the event.

There were no personnel injuries and no radiological releases were reported. The Unusual event was terminated at 7:47 p.m., although the NRC’s resident inspector remained onsite until about midnight.

As part of its ongoing oversight, the NRC will monitor the licensee’s follow-up actions. These include identification of the cause of the transformer fire; a review of the behavior of the plant’s electrical protection systems; and various repair activities.

“Overall, from what we now know, plant operators responded well to the event,” said Acting Deputy Regional Administrator Steve Reynolds. “The NRC will conduct an independent and comprehensive assessment of this incident as part of its oversight process.”

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