Public Affairs Officer
As we turn the page on a new year, the NRC is watching closely as the operators of the Fort Calhoun nuclear plant, located in Omaha, Neb., are working around the clock in hopes of returning the plant to service. It remains to be seen if the NRC is convinced the efforts of the Omaha Public Power District’s (OPPD) are sufficient.
The plant has been powered down since April 9, 2011, for a refueling outage. The outage was extended due to historic flooding along the Missouri River followed by an electrical fire that led to an “Alert” declaration and further restart complications.
On Jan. 8, OPPD officials and the NRC Fort Calhoun Oversight Panel members met before the five-member NRC Commission to discuss the current plant status. Positive change is on the horizon. “They [OPPD] are looking at problems with a different set of eyes today,” said Mike Hay, NRC Branch Chief and panel member. Some NRC Commissioners also noted the efforts by OPPD management to turn things around. It is also clear more work needs to be done.
In November 2012, the NRC issued a detailed inspection plan listing some 450 items that require attention, inspection, and resolution. Many of these items are subsets of the familiar issues that have been reported over the past two years including the breaker fire, flood strategy concerns, containment penetrations, and containment internal structures issues.
In 2013, there will be numerous NRC inspectors carrying out a very rigorous inspection schedule. A five-member team has already been on site for two weeks to independently verify results from a third-party safety culture assessment done last year. As part of the inspection, NRC held focus group interviews with plant works to assess the current climate and help the NRC understand how in tune management is with staff. Later in February, these results will be used to fuel a second, larger team inspection to fully assess human performance and safety culture at Fort Calhoun.
There is more to come. There will be an announcement soon with details for the next public meeting in Nebraska. The staff will continue to post updates and helpful information to the Fort Calhoun specific Web site.
Senior Public Affairs Officer
We gathered at the NRC’s Region III office near Chicago on a recent Saturday morning to continue our dialogue with the public about the Palisades nuclear plant. We decided to host our second webinar on this plant on a Saturday in response to a request from members of the public to hold it at a time when people aren’t at work.
Close to 100 people listened to the NRC’s presentation by four representatives of the Region III staff and asked questions on a wide range of questions on recent problems at Palisades.
The purpose of the webinar was to talk about the NRC’s regulations on a specific category of leaks – including the leaks that occurred at Palisades in 2012 – and the NRC’s response to these leaks. They are called “through-wall” leaks because they come through the wall of pipes and other plant components important to safety.
Resident inspectors stationed at every nuclear plant in the country continuously monitor any such leaks making sure they are properly understood and handled. Leaks that have no safety impact are not regulated by the NRC.
NRC’s regulations on through-wall leaks are based on the safety significance of the affected equipment. Leaks from the pressure retaining boundary of the reactor coolant system are not allowed and must be fixed right away. Other types of leaks may not require immediate repair but must be fixed before they have a negative impact on plant safety.
We talked about four through-wall leaks identified at Palisades last year; one of these was discovered by an NRC Resident Inspector during a routine daily inspection. Even though these leaks did not compromise plant safety, they concerned us because of their frequency. The agency decided to commit additional resources this year to evaluate these leaks and determine whether they represent a weakness in the plant’s maintenance program.
Three of the four leaks at Palisades have been fixed. The remaining leak from a refueling water tank is closely monitored and will be repaired according to NRC regulations.
We informed the public when the leaks at Palisades were discovered even though the NRC doesn’t normally make public notifications on leaks of very small safety significance. This was done in response to requests from many people to be informed about such issues at the plant.
We will continue the high level of engagement with the public near the Palisades plant to meet the agency’s goal of openness and transparency. Additional webinars on reactor vessel head embrittlement and environmental monitoring are already in the works. In addition, the NRC staff will have a booth at the Garden and Leisure Show in Benton Harbor, Mich., March 15-17.