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.

 

NRC Team Ready to Get to Work at Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant

Neil Sheehan
Public Affairs Officer
Region I
 

When the Pilgrim nuclear power plant got a second “white” performance indicator in the same area of performance in 2014 it meant we would ratchet up our level of scrutiny until the underlying issues were resolved.

pilgrimStarting Monday, that scrutiny will take the form of a team inspection at the Plymouth, Mass., facility. Eight NRC inspectors will begin performing evaluations in several key areas.

For one, they will review the evaluation done by Entergy, the plant’s owner and operator, looking at why the problems that triggered the indicator changes occurred. The team will also dig into the fixes, or corrective actions, put in place by the company to prevent the issues from happening again. They will also look at whether the issues could have affected other parts of plant operations. The timeframe for the inspection gave Pilgrim time to evaluate and fix the problems, so the NRC inspectors can make sure the corrective actions are adequate.

Another area the team will assess will be whether there were any safety culture weaknesses that caused or played a part in the performance issues. The NRC defines nuclear safety culture as values and behaviors that emphasize safety over competing goals to ensure protection of people and the environment.

Once the team’s on-site work is finished, the inspectors will brief Entergy at a high level regarding what it has found. That is followed by an inspection report issued within 45 days.

We also plan to conduct a public meeting with Entergy after the inspection is wrapped up. This meeting, which would likely occur in December or January near the plant, will provide a forum for the NRC and the company to discuss the performance issues, their underlying causes and any improvement steps.

The NRC will provide notice on the date, time and location for this session.

As a refresher on earlier developments, 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.

And that, in turn, requires the heightened NRC attention to be paid during the team inspection this week.

 

Tracking the Source: Pilgrim’s Tritium Link

Neil Sheehan
Public Affairs Officer, Region I
 

pilgIt may not be as daunting as searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack, but the process of trying to track down the source of tritium contamination at the Pilgrim nuclear power plant has been long and painstaking.

Since mid-2010, efforts have been under way to determine why certain groundwater monitoring wells at the Plymouth, Mass., site have detected very low levels of tritium, a naturally occurring radioactive form of hydrogen that is also a byproduct of nuclear power plant electricity production.

While tritium emits a weak form of radiation, does not travel very far in air and cannot penetrate the skin, the release of the radioactive material via an uncontrolled pathway is unacceptable to the NRC.

There is still more checking to be done, but now there is a possibility a 4-inch underground pipe might be the culprit.

The NRC, from the time the contamination was identified, has continued to press the plant’s owner, Entergy, to hunt for the point of origin so that further leakage could be prevented. Work done to find the source included extensive visual inspections of tanks, and piping and dye tests to track groundwater flows at the facility.

Until recently, those efforts did not bear fruit.

However, water leakage into the reactor building that occurred in mid-April helped plant personnel focus on the pipe in question. This pipe is used infrequently during any given year, to allow for the discharge of water containing small amounts of radioactivity, which limited the opportunities to detect this break. Still, this pipe was due to be checked as part of a voluntary nuclear industry initiative to inspect underground pipes and tanks that has been under way for several years and that all plants have undertaken.

The NRC will independently verify whether the pipe is, in fact, to blame for the contamination. In the meantime, the pipe has been removed from service to prevent any additional leakage. An NRC inspection of the plant’s implementation of the voluntary industry initiative is scheduled for September.

It’s important to note that the tritium contamination has remained on-site. Since the groundwater there is not used for drinking-water purposes, there is believed to be no risk to plant employees or the public as a result of the contamination.