Giving Potential Violations Their ‘Due’

Neil Sheehan
Public Affairs Officer
Region I

The NRC abides by a bedrock constitutional principle — due process — when considering enforcement actions against the companies were regulate. A recent NRC enforcement decision helps illustrate this principle.

On April 16, 2013, a system used to cool fuel in the reactor at the Nine Mile Point 1 nuclear power plant was temporarily knocked out of service during a refueling outage. This was due to a combination of maintenance activities, an unplanned loss of onsite electricity and the system being later improperly restored.

After reviewing the event, we told Constellation, the owner of the Scriba, N.Y. plant, on Sept. 23, 2013, we had identified a violation from the event. The violation was preliminarily classified as being of greater than very low safety significance or what we call “greater than green.”

The NRC uses a color-coded system for the ranking violations and determining when enhanced oversight is needed. So a “greater than green” meant the issue was being considered for “escalated enforcement.”

roundtable1Our due process offers the company a chance to meet with us. The company can give us any information we may have missed, provide its perspective on what happened and detail any corrective actions. Constellation met with us in a public enforcement conference on Nov. 1, 2013, at the NRC Region I Office.

Among other things, the company was able to show how reactor operators quickly identified the problem and took steps to address it. What’s more, it demonstrated there were other timely means of detecting the loss of the cooling system — including steam and humidity on the plant’s refueling floor had water begun to boil off – and multiple ways to get more water into the reactor.

Constellation’s arguments, supported by videos and additional analysis, were ultimately convincing.

The NRC staff announced in December the finding was being finalized as “green,” which means of very low safety significance. And the finding won’t result in additional oversight. But NRC inspectors will follow up to make sure the company made changes to prevent a recurrence.

Taking the time to arrive at the correct conclusion, and doing so in an open and transparent manner, is consistent with the NRC’s values. By adhering to due process, we increase the likelihood of arriving at the right place when it comes to enforcement.

Author: Moderator

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

14 thoughts on “Giving Potential Violations Their ‘Due’”

  1. Entergy submitted an Event Notification update to the NRC on Jan. 15 regarding the identification of tritium in a newly installed groundwater monitoring well at the Pilgrim nuclear power plant: . A sample taken from the well on Dec. 30 indicated a tritium concentration of 69,000 picocuries per liter, but the amount dropped to 20,000 on Jan. 6 and 14,300 on Jan. 9. Additional samples will be taken.

    For comparison purposes, the EPA limit for tritium in groundwater used for drinking purposes is 20,000 picocuries per liter. However, the groundwater at the Pilgrim site is not used for drinking. Here is a link to more information on tritium contamination: . In 1991, EPA calculated it would take a year-long ingestion of water containing 60,900 picocuries per liter of tritium to yield a radiation exposure dose of 4 millirems. The average American is exposed to about 620 millirems of radiation exposure each year from natural and manmade sources, so the dose involved would represent a fraction of the typical amount of exposure.
    The NRC will continue to inspect and report on the company’s implementation of its groundwater monitoring and prevention activities, as specified by the Nuclear Energy Institute’s Groundwater Protection Initiative. In addition, any subsurface contamination will be reviewed to ensure that public health and safety are protected.

    Neil Sheehan

  2. Here is a great discussion example from the past that is still relevant:

    San Onofre is rated by the Institute of Nuclear Operations (INPO) as an INPO 4 Plant (The Worst Nuclear Plant Rating) and it should also should be rated in NRC Region IV Response Column V (Worst rating) and not in the NRC Response Column I (Best Nuclear Plant Rating).

    San Onofre is the worst nuclear plant in the country with the worst safety record, worst retaliation record, an INPO 4 rating and it is a mockery to place it in NRC Response Column I. NRC Region IV by listing San Onofre in NRC Response Column I, is putting its credibility on line and is displaying clear trends of collusion with SCE. It would be informative to learn who made the decision on San Onofre’s current ranking and why…

    If the NRC San Onofre Special Review Panel wants to be welcomed by Southern Californians at their upcoming February 12 Public Meeting with SCE , the NRC needs to change San Onofre’s rating to NRC Response Column V, which will reflect current reality instead of just wishful thinking.

    Definitions of NRC Response Columns:
    Column I – All performance indicators and NRC inspection findings are GREEN
    Column II – No more than two WHITE inputs in different cornerstones.
    Cornerstone objectives fully met.
    Column III – One degraded cornerstone (two WHITE inputs or one YELLOW input
    or three WHITE inputs in any strategic area).
    Cornerstone objectives met with minimal reduction in safety margin.
    Column IV – Repetitive degraded cornerstone, multiple degraded cornerstones,
    or multiple YELLOW inputs, or one RED input. Cornerstone objectives
    met with long-standing issues or significant reduction in safety margin.
    Response at NRC Agency level
    • Executive Director for Operations to hold public meeting with senior
    utility management
    • Utility develops performance improvement plan with NRC oversight
    • NRC team inspection focused on cause of degraded performance
    • Demand for Information, Confirmatory Action Letter
    Column V. Unacceptable Performance, Unacceptable reduction in safety margin
    Response at NRC Agency level
    •Plant not permitted to operate

  3. Thank you for your question. You are correct that only “greater than green” inspection findings require a formal response on the docket from the company as well as enhanced NRC inspections. However, that does not mean that “green” findings and non-cited violations are not followed up on and assessed.

    Whenever a violation of NRC requirements is identified, the plant owner is required to take action to restore compliance within a reasonable amount of time. The NRC Resident Inspectors assigned to each plant review the company’s actions on a daily basis and the NRC conducts a biennial Problem Identification and Resolution Team Inspection which in part reviews the plant owner’s corrective actions for all findings to ensure compliance is restored and actions to identify the cause, correct the problem(s) and preclude recurrence were implemented as appropriate.

    In addition, the NRC’s plant assessment process, as discussed in NRC Inspection Manual Chapter 0305, assesses all findings for common causes. Each finding that is reflective of current performance is coded with a cross-cutting code. The NRC reviews plant performance and looks for trends in these areas and can assigned a Substantive Cross-Cutting Issue (SCCIs) in any area where a concern is identified. SCCIs are discussed in the NRC Mid-Cycle and End-of-Cycle Performance Letters, and can result in increased focused inspection in that area. This allows the NRC to proactively address a weakness in plant performance, bring that observation to the attention of the owner and the public, and ensure actions are developed and implemented to address the weakness. The majority of the findings in this process are “green” findings or non-cited violations. The NRC’s Reactor Oversight Process evaluates each inspection finding on its own merits to ensure consistent, transparent and fair application of enforcement actions.

    The NRC plant assessment letters are publicly available on the NRC website at, and a summary of all inspection findings can be found here: . Also, each plant has an assessment summary page, which includes both inspection findings and performance indicators for the current assessment period (Nine Mile Point Unit 1’s summary included as an example) .

    Neil Sheehan

  4. In Dec. 2013, the NRC concluded that the plant, people, and processes were ready to support the safe restart of the Fort Calhoun Station. The NRC reached that conclusion on the basis of more than 23,000 hours of extensive NRC inspections and detailed evaluations to independently review more than 450 restart actions items, major improvements made by OPPD to the plant’s supporting organizational infrastructure and programs, as well as a number of equipment
    modifications to improve reliability. Key documents can be found on this page:

    This link will take you to a backgrounder on the biological effects of radiation: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also has a very complete section on their web site regarding radiation’s health effects:

    Lara Uselding
    Region IV

  5. Looks like, to me, they found a leak on a sample line that goes through a penetration. The penetration itself wasn’t found leaking.

    Because a pipe that passes through a containment had an apparent leak, they had to manually isolate the penetration by closing the isolation valves. With the valves closed, there is no longer a leak.

    This is a fairly typical response in reactor operations. When a line that passes through any containment penetration is potentially leaky, tech specs requires isolating the affected penetration.

    It’s different from the icing event.

  6. The color coding of problems failed at San Onofre because the NRC chose to downplay the seriousness of what happened because to do otherwise would only make both the operator and the NRC look bad.

    I’d like to see a listing posted of the amounts of these fines and what the money actually gets used for, that would be educational!

    Another listing that would be most helpful would be to list the number of repeated finding and along with their dates, since this would point out habitual unsafe operators.

  7. So judging by some of the comments on this post and the one from yesterday, we’re to expect the NRC to be in the business of producing stacks of 8 x 10 color glossies with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back? I’m sure even that would be greeted with dirision by the lurkers here. And it would come out of your electric bill.

  8. Your NRC staff released within December the actual discovering had been finalized seeing that “green, ” this means associated with really low safe practices importance. Along with the discovering won’t bring about more oversight. Although NRC inspectors will track way up to make sure the business produced improvements to stop some sort of recurrence.

  9. Let me show you in documentation what I mean.
    all good right
    maybe not
    no report here but wait lets look at the day before
    no one said anything about ice but they did say
    “During an engineering walk down inside containment a minor leak from a pipe fitting was discovered on the primary sampling piping connected to penetration M-45. There was previously identified minor leakage from a fitting on this same penetration outside of containment in the auxiliary building. The containment isolation valves are currently tagged closed.”
    seems penetration M-45 has a problem.
    Then looking back.
    ” At 2230 CST on 1/8/14 during operator rounds it was self identified there was a block of ice formed on the shaft and top of one of the intake structure sluice gates. This has bent the sluice gate operating shaft. At 0315 CST on 1/9/14 it was verified this gate could not be closed.

    “There are six intake sluice gates that are required to be able to close to act as flood barriers. The other 5 sluice gates are not affected by this condition.”

    “At 0315 CST T.S. 2.0.1 was entered for all four Raw Water pumps being declared inoperable. The pumps were declared inoperable due to inability to close one of the sluice gates. There are six sluice gates and one is not functional.

    “At 0518 the technical specification required shutdown commenced.”

    The licensee notified the NRC Resident Inspector.


    “At 0900 CST 1/9/14 Fort Calhoun Station Unit 1 was manually tripped and entered Mode 3. Reactor Coolant System (RCS) cooldown to less than 300 deg F was commenced at time 1030 CST 1/9/14. The RCS temperature was less than 300 deg F at time 1433 CST. A press release has been issued.”

    So after all the chatter am I at risk in Virginia?

  10. Could you write a similar assessment of Fort Calhoun Nuclear. These dinosaurs need to die without taking us with them. The industry owns the NRC and until that changes you can continue to pat yourselves on the back but the environment continues to be filled with radiation.

    Rather that telling us everything is fine please tell me what level of radiation is safe for me and my children.

  11. Getting together with the licensee on potential safety issues is always a good thing and this is only being fair and considerate. I commend the NRC for doing it and getting all relevant info on the table.
    However, the best finding is no finding at all. As I understand “green” violations they require no formal response from the licensee. Only GTG violations require a formal response I believe. Are Green violations trended? Is there a criteria set for escalating Green violations if there are “too many” similar ones? If there is a number of Green violations in one cornerstone does a GTG violation occur?
    My concern is that there are too many violations that are buried in this process. Can you provide me with more perspective on this matter?

  12. Sounds reasonable, assuming the Utility has had suitable historical operator and management performance. Should provide the local citizens with some degree of confidence that the USNRC is showing interest in assuring Nuclear Safety for the public is first on their list.

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