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.