NRC Issues Comprehensive Inspection Report on Arkansas Nuclear One

Victor Dricks
Senior Public Affairs Officer
Region IV

The NRC has just issued a lengthy report documenting the results of a comprehensive inspection conducted earlier this year at Arkansas Nuclear One, or ANO. The plant, operated by Entergy Operations, Inc., is located in Russellville, Ark.

anoOn March 4, 2015, the NRC moved ANO into Column 4 of the agency’s Action Matrix (where operating plants with significant performance issues receive the second highest level of NRC oversight). This followed inspection findings of substantial safety significance stemming from a heavy equipment incident as well as degraded flood protection at the site. As part of its increased oversight of ANO, the NRC conducted a rigorous, independent, diagnostic assessment of the performance, programs and processes at the site earlier this year.

A team of 27 NRC inspectors from all four NRC regional offices and NRC headquarters spent about 3,800 hours of direct inspection. They concluded that despite its problems, ANO has been –- and continues to be — operated safely. This judgement was based on the fact there have not been any safety-significant inspection findings since the plant’s move to Column 4. Inspectors also concluded the robust plant design had not been compromised and the ANO staff’s operational focus has improved.

In addition to inspecting ANO’s program for evaluating and correcting performance issues, the NRC team developed insights into the causes for the performance decline at ANO. The team also evaluated the adequacy of a third-party safety culture assessment ANO commissioned. Additionally, the NRC inspection included an assessment of how well ANO determined the root causes for its performance deficiencies and developed performance improvement programs.

PI_ROPBased on Entergy’s review of the causes of the performance decline, the independent third-party nuclear safety culture assessment findings, and the results of the NRC’s independent diagnostic evaluation, “the team determined that Entergy understands the depth and breadth of performance concerns associated with ANO’s performance decline,” NRC Region IV Administrator Marc Dapas said in a letter to Entergy officials accompanying the report.

Dapas further stated that “effective implementation of the comprehensive recovery plan, supported by the allocation of adequate resources and continued enhanced oversight by Entergy leadership, should lead to substantial sustained performance improvement.”

The NRC team documented 16 findings of very low safety significance. The 243-page report goes into a high level of detail about the results of the inspections, but here are some highlights:

  • Resource reductions and leadership behaviors were the most significant causes for ANO’s declining performance. Entergy reduced resources across its fleet in 2007 and 2013, but it did not adequately consider the unique staffing needs for ANO created by having two units with different designs.
  • ANO management did not reduce workloads through efficiencies or the elimination of unnecessary work, as was intended as part of the resource reduction initiatives. Leaders attempted to prioritize work with the available resources, but they did not address expanding work backlogs. Over time, this contributed to equipment reliability challenges.
  • An unexpected increase in employee attrition between 2012 and 2014 caused a loss in experienced personnel, which led to a reduced capacity to accomplish work, and an increased need for training and supervision.
  • Since 2007, the reduced resources created a number of changes that slowly began to impact equipment reliability. The Entergy fleet reduced preventive maintenance and extended the time between some maintenance activities.

Although ANO is in the early stages of implementing its comprehensive recovery plan, there have been some notable improvements in station performance. ANO implemented prompt action to improve operator performance, for example, and ANO management decision making has increased in rigor and conservatism. The NRC resident inspectors have noted a number of examples that indicate the operations department is taking a leadership role and raising the standards across the station. Also, employees are engaging in discussions of the potential risk of plant activities, and the corrective action program rigor has improved. And ANO staff have begun to question the status quo and emphasize the need to assess and address problems.

The NRC inspection team reported its preliminary findings at an April 6 public meeting held in Russellville. The NRC is preparing a Confirmatory Action Letter to document Entergy’s commitments to address performance issues identified in the inspection report and the key actions needed to ensure sustained improvement in safety performance. The NRC expects to issue this letter and make it publicly available later this month.

NRC will conduct quarterly inspections to verify that ANO successfully undertakes all necessary improvement actions. From these inspections, NRC will independently determine whether ANO’s corrective actions have been effective and whether, after a period of sustained good performance, the NRC can return ANO to normal oversight.

NRC Embarks on First Phase of Increased Oversight Process at Pilgrim

Neil Sheehan
Public Affairs Officer
Region I

As a new year kicks into gear, the NRC will be stepping up its oversight activities at the Pilgrim nuclear power plant. The start of a formalized review process is in line with our pledge last year to apply additional scrutiny amid performance concerns.

pilgIn September, the agency announced the finalization of an inspection finding for the Plymouth, Mass., facility. Classified as “White,” or of low to moderate safety significance, the finding stemmed from issues involving the plant’s safety relief valves.

Based on that enforcement action, in combination with two earlier “White” findings received by the plant, Pilgrim moved to Column 4, of the agency’s Action Matrix, which dictates the agency’s level of oversight at plants.

We said at the time that the plant would be subjected to numerous hours of inspections above the normal level as a consequence of the change. While all of the specific details of the increased oversight are not yet in place, we’ve notified the plant’s owner, Entergy, that the inspection process would entail three phases.

Phase “A” of the 95003 process – that number refers to an inspection procedure for plants in Column 4 — is scheduled to occur this week. It will involve a review of various aspects of the plant’s corrective action program, with a specific focus on older items that were in need of attention. A plant’s corrective action program serves the vital purpose of ensuring problems are addressed in a timely manner, and we want to ensure items entered into it were, in fact, appropriately dispositioned.

The objective will be to determine if continued operation is acceptable and whether additional regulatory actions are required to arrest declining performance.

Current plans call for Phase “B” to be carried out during the week of April 4. During that phase, the NRC will evaluate the overall performance of the plant’s corrective action program since a problem identification and resolution inspection was completed there last August. In other words, this phase will be keyed to more recent corrective actions, particularly since the plant entered Column 4.

Each of those phases will be performed by three inspectors from the NRC’s Region I Office in King of Prussia, Pa.

Based on the results of those first two phases, the NRC will develop a plan for, and map out the scope of, Phase “C.” It will cover items not inspected during the first two phases and include an assessment of the plant’s safety culture and such areas as human performance, equipment reliability and procedure quality.

What’s more, the inspectors will review the work done as part of the plant’s performance improvement plan. That plan is due to be submitted to the NRC sometime in mid-2016.

This final phase will be the most comprehensive of the three and will seek to inform the agency’s decision on whether sufficient progress has been made to end the agency’s increased oversight of the facility. The timeframe for that review will be available later this year.

Another step will be the NRC’s issuance of a Confirmatory Action Letter to Pilgrim that will spell out actions needed for the plant to satisfy any remaining safety concerns. The agency will subsequently inspect the company’s follow-through on those commitments.

It should be noted that the NRC has not waited until now to increase its oversight at Pilgrim following the decision last September. The agency has already performed focused inspections at the plant, in such areas as operator performance, preparations for adverse weather, and problem identification and resolution.

In addition, the NRC has added a third Resident Inspector – there are normally two — assigned to Pilgrim since November.

Even though Entergy has announced that Pilgrim will be shutting down no later than June 2019, the NRC remains committed to our safety oversight, with these inspections helping to inform our determinations.

We also remain committed to communicating to the public regarding our oversight activities at Pilgrim as they advance. That information will be made available via this blog, our web site and in correspondence. Stay tuned.

 

 

Indian Point 3 Timely Renewal

Diane Screnci
Sr. Public Affairs Officer
Region I

It’s been more than eight years since Entergy filed an application requesting that the NRC renew the operating licenses for Indian Point Units 2 and 3. And, a final decision is still a ways off.

indianpointUnder NRC regulations, if a company submits a sufficient application for a renewed license at least five years before the expiration of the current license, then the request is considered “timely” and the facility is allowed to continue operating under its current license until the NRC issues a decision on the license renewal request.

On December 13th, Indian Point 3 will enter the period of “timely renewal.”  Entergy submitted a license renewal application for both Indian Point Units in April 2007, meeting the timeliness provision. The Unit 3 license would have expired December 12, 2015. This doesn’t mean the unit will be operating without a license. Rather Unit 3, like Unit 2 (which entered timely renewal in September 2013), will continue to operate under its existing license.

The Atomic Energy Act specifies that operating licenses can be issued for up to 40 years and allows license renewals in 20 year increments. Thus far, the NRC has issued renewed licenses to 81 reactors. Typically, it takes about 22 months for the staff to reach a decision on whether to renew a license – longer if there’s a hearing. In the case of Indian Point, though, the process has taken longer than projected, due in part to the large number of contentions the parties have raised in the hearing.

Although a final decision on the application hasn’t been reached, the NRC staff has measures in place to provide assurance the facility will continue to operate safely during this time period.  We’ll continue to carry out our extensive regulatory and oversight activities. NRC inspectors, including the three on-site Resident Inspectors and specialist inspectors from the Regional office, will continue their duties during this period, providing independent oversight of the facility on a continual basis.

In a September 28 letter to the NRC, Entergy confirmed that the Unit 3 license renewal commitments required to be in place prior to entry into the period of extended operation were complete. In October, Entergy certified that the Indian Point 3 Updated Final Safety analysis report had been updated to incorporate aging management programs for the unit. In response, that same month, we completed an inspection to review the activities Entergy has taken to prepare for operating in timely renewal and found that the processes and commitments had been properly implemented.

While it might be some time before the Commission reaches a final decision on license renewal at Indian Point, our independent oversight of the facility will continue uninterrupted while in “timely renewal.”

Entergy to NRC: Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant To Cease Operations

Neil Sheehan
Public Affairs Officer
Region I

pilgOver the past few years, five reactors have permanently stopped operation earlier than anticipated and began the process of decommissioning. A sixth will soon be joining that list, it was announced yesterday. Entergy, owner of the Pilgrim nuclear power plant, announced its plan to stop operations at the Plymouth, Mass., facility no later than June 1, 2019. The nuclear plant in Oyster Creek previously announced it was shutting down in 2019.

Entergy has emphasized to the NRC its commitment to safe plant operations until Pilgrim’s control rods are inserted for the last time and the unit is shut down. The company has also told us it intends to get ready for and support NRC inspection activities associated with the plant’s recent transition to Column 4 of our Action Matrix.

The NRC will continue to conduct inspections and provide oversight consistent with that required of a plant in that status, with a team inspection expected sometime in 2016.

More broadly, the agency will keep close watch on Pilgrim’s performance through the end of its operational life. Additional information on the agency’s oversight activities at the plant are available on the NRC’s website.

There are more than a dozen units in some stage of decommissioning under NRC oversight.  The NRC has traditionally used operating reactor regulations for plants undergoing decommissioning, which requires the plants to seek exemptions when the regulations for operating reactors are no longer relevant or appropriate.

While this approach is sound from a safety standpoint, the Commission has directed NRC staff to initiate a process for developing a reactor decommissioning rulemaking, with a final rule to be issued by early 2019. For information on decommissioning can be found on the NRC website.

 

 

 

Additional Scrutiny at Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant Set to Continue

Neil Sheehan
Public Affairs Officer
Region I

Update: As a follow-up, the NRC is launching a Special Inspection today (Monday, Feb. 2) at the Pilgrim nuclear power plant in response to the shutdown that occurred at the Plymouth, Mass., facility on Jan. 27. The six-member team will review equipment issues experienced during the shutdown, including the partial loss of off-site power. The results of the NRC inspection will be made publicly available within 45 days of the inspection’s completion.

Last fall, a team of NRC inspectors was tasked with evaluating whether issues at the Pilgrim nuclear power plant that triggered increased agency oversight had been satisfactorily addressed. That team has now returned its findings in the form of a newly issued inspection report.

pilgrimAnd the answer – at least at this point in time – is that Entergy, the Plymouth, Mass., plant’s owner, still has some more work to do.

Specifically, although the eight-member team has determined that, in general, the company’s problem identification, root cause evaluation and corrective action plans were adequate, it has identified deficiencies in the implementation of corrective action plans, as well as in understanding of the issues’ causes.

In its report, the team cites several examples where fixes were not completed as intended or were closed prematurely.

As a result, per agency protocols, the NRC is assigning two “parallel” “white” (low to moderate safety significance) inspection findings to Pilgrim. The findings will administratively replace two “white” performance indicators that initially led to the plant receiving additional scrutiny.

The net effect will be the plant will continue to receive heightened attention until the NRC can perform a follow-up team inspection and is satisfied the concerns have been resolved. The NRC will conduct that additional inspection once Entergy notifies the agency of its readiness for it.

To back up for a moment, the Pilgrim plant’s performance indicator for Unplanned Scrams (shutdowns) with Complications crossed the threshold from “green” to “white” following the third quarter of 2013. Then, in the fourth quarter of last year, the performance indicator for Unplanned Scrams per 7,000 Hours of Operation also changed to “white,” something that occurs if a plant has more than three such shutdowns during the designated period.

This placed Pilgrim in the Degraded Cornerstone Column of the Action Matrix used by the NRC to assess plant performance.

Pilgrim has not had any unplanned scrams since October 2013, and the performance indicators discussed above are currently “green.” But the assignment of the white findings will keep the plant in the Degraded Cornerstone Column pending successful completion of the supplemental inspection.

The NRC intends to discuss the inspection results during the Annual Assessment meeting for the plant. That meeting will likely take place in March near the plant, but a date, time and location have not yet been firmed up.

 

Vermont Yankee Shuts Down – After 42 Years

Neil Sheehan
Public Affairs Officer
Region I

VermontYankeeAerialView

Update: The NRC is accepting comments from the public on the Vermont Yankee Post-Shutdown Decommissioning Activities Report. The comment period will be open through March 23, 2015. Written comments can be submitted to: Cindy Bladey, Office of Administration, Mail Stop: 3WFN-06-A44M, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Washington, D.C. 20555-0001, and via www.regulations.gov, using Docket No. 50-271. Another opportunity for members of the public to offer comments on the report will be at an NRC meeting being planned for Feb. 19 in Brattleboro, Vt.

 

Capping off slightly more than 42 years of splitting atoms and generating electricity, the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant’s reactor was shut down for the final time today.

Although Vermont Yankee’s operating license was valid until March 21, 2032, its owner, Entergy, decided last year to close the Vernon, Vt., plant. It cited low natural gas prices and other factors when announcing that decision.

Planning is already well under way by the company on what lays ahead, namely a decommissioning process expected to take place over several years. Many of the details are outlined in a roadmap document known as a Post-Shutdown Decommissioning Activities Report (PSDAR).

Entergy filed the report for Vermont Yankee with the NRC on Dec. 19. Before the decommissioning process kicks into gear – an undertaking some have likened to construction in reverse – the NRC will review the report and determine if the approaches meet the applicable federal criteria.

In conjunction with that review, the NRC plans to hold a public meeting in early 2015 to receive comments on the PSDAR. More details will be provided in the near future.

There is a significant amount of review and additional planning work to be accomplished in the months and years ahead. The NRC is prepared to keep close watch on those activities for every step of what promises to be a lengthy journey. State officials and a Vermont-formed decommissioning oversight panel will also play key roles in this process.

Throughout the journey, the NRC will continue to carry out its oversight responsibilities through on-site inspections and reviews of regulatory filings by Entergy. These NRC programs have a common goal: To protect public health and safety and the environment as the site moves through the various stages of decommissioning.

More information about the NRC’s decommissioning activities is available on the agency’s website.