Indian Point Transformer Fire

Diane Screnci
Senior Public Affairs Officer
Region I

NRC inspectors are following up on a transformer fire at Indian Point Energy Center over the weekend. The NRC Resident Inspectors for Indian Point – who work at the plant on a daily basis – are monitoring activities at the site while plant workers are troubleshooting and looking for the cause of the fire on the Unit 3 main transformer.

The transformer fire happened at about 6 p.m. on Saturday night. A sprinkler system initially extinguished the flames, but it reignited and was put out by the onsite fire brigade and local fire departments. The fire caused the reactor to automatically shut down, as designed. All safety systems worked as designed. There was no danger to the public and no release of radiation. The reactor is stable. Unit 2 continues to operate at full power.

Plant operators declared an “unusual event” – the lowest of the emergency classifications – in accordance with plant procedures. All plants have procedures, approved by the NRC, that dictate how events are classified to ensure appropriate steps are taken to respond to the event and to communicate the event to local and state agencies and the NRC.

In addition to cooling provided by fans, the main transformer is also cooled by oil flowing through it. On Saturday, oil from the transformer spilled into the plant’s discharge canal. Entergy has been working to determine how much oil was spilled.

The transformer that failed carries electricity from the main generator to the electrical grid. The same type of equipment can be found at any plant that generates electricity. It is on the electrical generation side of the plant – not the nuclear side.

As far as next steps go, plant employees will determine what happened and why. They will repair or replace any equipment that was damaged in the fire. The plant can restart when ready. NRC inspectors will be monitoring Entergy’s actions every step of the way, ensuring workers are taking all appropriate actions.

As we do with any event at a plant, we’ll continue to review what happened and how the plant responded. If need be, we’ll send additional inspectors to the site to look further into the event and its effects.

New dates for Illinois and California Waste Confidence public meetings

Keith I. McConnell
Director, Waste Confidence Directorate
Office of Nuclear Material Safety and Safeguards

With the government shutdown now behind us, we’ve been working to get five important Waste Confidence meetings rescheduled.  If you recall, meetings to talk about the proposed new Waste Confidence rule and draft generic environmental impact statement were planned in San Luis Obispo and Carlsbad, Calif., and Oak Brook, Ill., and scheduled Oct. 7, 9 and 24 respectively. With the shutdown we had to postpone these and two other meetings.

We’re pleased to say that most of the meetings are now rescheduled. The Oak Brook meeting is now set for Tuesday, Nov. 12. The one in Carlsbad will take place on Monday, Nov. 18, and the one in San Luis Obispo will be on Wednesday, Nov. 20. The starting times and locations for these three meetings are unchanged.

Please see the Waste Confidence Directorate’s Public Involvement webpage for meeting times, locations, and how to register to attend the meetings.

The Waste Confidence Directorate is still working on rescheduling meetings originally scheduled for Oct. 15 in Perrysburg, Ohio, and Oct. 17 in Minnetonka, Minn. We expect to make an announcement about new dates for those meetings early next week.

From the Chairman: Getting Back to Work

Allison Macfarlane 
Chairman, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

With the government shutdown over, at the NRC we are back in business and getting back up to speed with our work. We want to welcome back our thousands of employees who endured the furlough and thank those who kept the mission essential functions of the NRC operating during this period.

There are many questions to be answered in the coming days, such as when will various meetings we had to postpone be rescheduled, and so on. We are working as rapidly as possible to get answers to those questions and encourage you to check our public meetings page  for the latest information. We are lifting the suspension on adjudications.

The Waste Confidence meetings seeking public input on this important topic resume their regular schedule the week of Oct. 28.

A great deal of our important work has gone undone over the past week or so. We recognize it will take some time to get us back to normal – to catch up with the mail, to reschedule meetings, rebook travel and plow through the in-basket. While we all want to be back to normal quickly, we need to work through the backlog in a careful and deliberate manner. It will take us a few days to get services such as our website caught up.

Thank you for your patience and it’s good to be back.

When Gauges Go Missing … UPDATED

Neil Sheehan
Public Affairs Officer, Region I

It’s easy to imagine the sense of distress that must have washed over a portable nuclear gauge user one recent morning when he realized the device he had stowed in the back of his truck was missing. The gauge had apparently tumbled from his vehicle as he drove along a road near Martinsburg, W.Va.

Despite the gauge user’s prompt retracing of his steps, the device was nowhere to be found and, as of today, has not yet been retrieved.

While the search goes on, some perspective is in order regarding the use of such gauges, which contain sealed sources of radioactive materials and are designed to take measurements of soil density at construction and other work sites. The reality is the loss of these portable gauges is an infrequent occurrence and that is due, in large part, to the requirements developed over time to avoid that from happening.

Indeed, NRC and Agreement State regulations clearly spell out the precautions gauge operators must take when the devices are not in use. (Agreement States are those that have signed an agreement with the NRC to regulate nuclear materials used within their borders for which the NRC would otherwise be responsible.)

For one thing, there is a security requirement that a minimum of two independent physical controls must be utilized to prevent unauthorized removal of a gauge when it is not under direct control and surveillance of company personnel. For another, there must be constant surveillance of a gauge when it is in an unrestricted area.

When violations of these requirements occur in non-Agreement States, the NRC will consider whether enforcement action is warranted. Agreement States will do the same in their jurisdictions.

What’s more, the NRC and Agreement States conduct typically unannounced periodic inspections of gauge owners to discern whether security and other requirements are being properly followed.

Provided the sealed source remains inside the shielded gauge, it should not pose a threat to the person or persons who have it in their possession. Nevertheless, the device needs to be back in the hands of personnel qualified to handle such material as soon as possible.

In a post-9/11 world, the NRC takes very seriously the security of radioactive materials, from nuclear fuel used in power reactors to small amounts of radioactive material housed in portable gauges transported on pick-up trucks.

05/17/2013 – Updated: There is now a happy post-script to the case of portable nuclear gauge that went missing earlier this month in West Virginia.

On May 3, a Pennsylvania firm doing work in the Mountain State reported to the NRC that a gauge had fallen off one of its trucks and could not be located. The NRC issued a press release on May 6 advising the public to be on the lookout for the device.  The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) put out its own release regarding the missing gauge on May 14, based on the fact that its owner, Valley Quarries, is headquartered in Chambersburg, Pa., and is licensed by the state.

A break occurred on May 15 when a Maryland resident contacted the DEP to say he had spotted the gauge along a roadside near Martinsburg, W.Va., and placed it in his trunk after deciding it must be something important. It apparently remained there until being handed over to the DEP and, in turn, to Valley Quarries.

The good news is that a preliminary evaluation has found the gauge was apparently not damaged. A service provider for Valley Quarries will confirm that is the case. n the meantime, the NRC’s inspection of the loss of the gauge is still in progress. As part of that review, the NRC and DEP teamed up for an inspection at the company’s headquarters late last week to evaluate safety and security protocols used by the firm with respect to its portable nuclear gauges.

When the NRC’s inspection is completed, the results will be made available to the public.

NRC Forms Special San Onofre Review Panel

Victor Dricks
Senior Public Affairs Officer
Region IV

NRC Chairman Allison Macfarlane (second from right) listens as Southern California Edison executive Richard St. Onge (third from right) discusses issues with one of the damaged steam generators at SONGS. The steam generator is in the right foreground.
NRC Chairman Allison Macfarlane (second from right) listens as Southern California Edison executive Richard St. Onge (third from right) discusses issues with one of the damaged steam generators at SONGS. The steam generator is in the right foreground.

The NRC has established a special panel to coordinate the agency’s evaluation of Southern California Edison Co.’s proposed plan for restarting its Unit 2 reactor and ensuring that the root causes of problems with the plant’s steam generators are identified and addressed.

Art Howell, the NRC’s Region IV deputy regional administrator, will serve as co-chairman of the panel along with Dan Dorman, deputy director for engineering and corporate support in the Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation (NRR). Jim Andersen, chief of NRR’s Electrical Engineering Branch, will serve as deputy team manager of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) Oversight Panel.

The panel will ensure that NRC communicates a unified and consistent position in a clear and predictable manner to the licensee, public and other stakeholders, and establishes a record of major regulatory and licensee actions taken and technical issues reviewed, including adequacy of Southern California Edison’s corrective actions.

The panel also will be responsible for conducting periodic public meetings with the utility and providing a recommendation to senior NRC management regarding restart of SONGS Unit 2. In comments to reporters Monday following a tour of the plant, Chairman Allison Macfarlane said Unit 2 will not be permitted to restart unless the NRC has reasonable assurance it can be operated safely.

Other panel members include: 

  • Ed Roach, chief, Mechanical Vendor Inspection Branch, NRO
  • Ryan Lantz, chief, SONGS Project Branch, Region IV
  • Greg Werner, inspection & assessment lead, SONGS Project Branch, Region IV
  • Nick Taylor, senior project engineer, SONGS Project Branch, Region IV
  • Greg Warnick, senior resident inspector, San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station
  • Doug Broaddus, chief, SONGS Special Project Branch, NRR
  • Randy Hall, project manager, SONGS Special Project Branch, NRR
  • Ken Karwoski, senior level advisor, Division of Engineering, NRR
  • Michele Evans, director, Division of Operating Reactor Licensing (alternate is Pat Hiland, director, Division of Engineering)

Improving Communication at the NRC

Public Meeting Facilitated by Lance Rakovan
Lance Rakovan

Senior Communication Specialist

At the NRC, we do our best to be open and keep the public informed about what actions we are taking and why we are taking them. We are also always open to suggestions on how to improve our communications with the public.

On Jan. 23, the NRC will hold a “virtual” public meeting (via webinar and conference call) to discuss potential ways the agency might improve communications. Discussion topics include:

  • Reflections on the NRC’s communications since the Fukushima event, including actions the NRC has taken in response. Since Fukushima, are you getting the information you need involving the NRC and the nuclear industry’s progress in implementing lessons learned from the event?
  • Potential actions the NRC might take in the long term to improve stakeholder involvement. In addition to or instead of its current communication mechanisms, how should the NRC communicate about significant regulatory issues?
  • Ways the NRC could partner with other organizations to improve public communication and education on topics associated with radiological safety. Which groups might be open to cooperating with the agency on public communications?
  • Non-traditional places/ways the NRC could communicate its message. Are there unconventional communications channels the NRC is not using that could help get out the agency’s message?

Our hope is to get some “out of the box” ideas on ways we can improve howwe communicate with the public.

Details about the meeting can be found here.

Whether or not you can participate in this meeting, please feel free to provide input on any of the topics listed above by commenting to this blog posting. We will incorporate any comments received here into the meeting summary. 

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.