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NRC Begins Significant Activity under Heightened Oversight at Pilgrim Nuclear Plant

Neil Sheehan
Public Affairs Officer
Region I

A significant activity at the Pilgrim nuclear power plant gets underway today when a team of inspectors arrives at the Plymouth, Mass., facility to examine a variety of aspects of its operation.

Included on the 20-member team will be inspectors tasked with evaluating the state of equipment reliability, human performance, plant procedures and the plant’s corrective action program.

What’s more, the team will look carefully at the plant’s safety culture. Among other things, safety culture encompasses the willingness of plant employees to raise safety concerns without fear of reprisal.

This inspection is being performed as part of NRC increased oversight of Pilgrim, which was initiated in September 2015. That occurred after performance issues triggered a change in where the plant falls on the agency’s Action Matrix. The matrix uses inspection findings and performance indicators to guide the level of scrutiny at each plant.

The “95003” inspection process spells out the steps to be taken by the NRC staff to ensure a plant’s owner has taken the appropriate actions to remedy deficiencies. Two earlier team inspections, carried out in January and April, were also part of this oversight regimen.

The inspection beginning today will involve three weeks of on-site reviews. Any findings coming out of the evaluation will be made available in a report due out within 45 days of the inspection’s conclusion.

More information on the NRC review activities regarding Pilgrim can be found on a webpage devoted to that subject.

NRC Oversight at Pilgrim Plant Entering a New Phase

Neil Sheehan
Public Affairs Officer
Region I

One phase down but more to go. We’re referring here to the multiple steps involved in the NRC’s heightened oversight of the Pilgrim nuclear power plant.

pilgIn January, an NRC team completed Phase “A” of the multi-step inspection process required for plants that end up in Column 4 of the agency’s Action Matrix. Pilgrim received that designation last September based on earlier performance issues.

This first inspection examined various aspects of the Plymouth, Mass., plant’s corrective action program, which is in place to ensure that problems, once identified, are fixed on a timely basis according to their safety importance.

Our report on that review noted the identification on one inspection finding of very low safety significance involving a failure to adequately correct water leakage from the core spray system. Otherwise, the inspectors determined that there were no longstanding risk-significant issues in the program that were not addressed or assigned appropriate corrective actions and due dates.

Beginning today, the Phase “B” review will get under way at the facility. This inspection will focus additional attention on the corrective action program but with emphasis on its effectiveness more recently, specifically since the plant began undergoing increased scrutiny last summer.

As was the case with the first phase, the results will be documented in a report due out within 45 days after the assessment has been formally concluded, or exited.

The most comprehensive phase of this process (known in NRC terms as a 95003 inspection) will take place later this year or in early 2017. It will zero in on areas that will include human performance, equipment reliability and the quality of plant procedures, as well as the site’s safety culture, or the willingness of employees to freely and openly raise safety concerns. The corrective action program will also receive another look.

In the meantime, the NRC will be updating the public on Pilgrim’s performance during 2015 at a meeting scheduled for Wednesday, April 13, in Plymouth. We’ll also be taking questions, including those pertaining to our additional oversight of the plant. Further details will be available soon in a meeting notice to be posted on the agency’s website.

More information on NRC oversight activities at Pilgrim can be found on our webpage devoted to the subject.

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.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Pilgrim Nuclear Plant Heads Toward More NRC Scrutiny

Neil Sheehan
Public Affairs Officer
Region I
 

This likely won’t come as a surprise to those who closely follow the Pilgrim nuclear power plant, but the NRC will be bumping up its level of oversight for the Plymouth, Mass., reactor.

pilgAt the conclusion of every quarter, U.S. nuclear power plant owners voluntarily provide the agency with data that determines if there will be any changes to the Performance Indicators for each facility. The indicators cover areas such as the number of unplanned shutdowns, emergency siren functionality and the effectiveness of radiological controls.

Based on the update of indicator data following the third quarter of 2013, Pilgrim saw its Performance Indicator for Unplanned Scrams (shutdowns) with Complications shift from “green” to “white.” This indicator tracks unplanned scrams that require additional operator actions and that are more risk-significant than uncomplicated shutdowns.

This adjustment resulted in the NRC notifying Entergy, the plant’s owner, that additional scrutiny would be applied to the site. More specifically, the facility moved from Licensee Response Column of the NRC’s Action Matrix – connoting normal oversight – to the Regulatory Response Column – signaling additional inspections by the agency.

Now, with the finalization of 2013 fourth-quarter data, another indicator for Pilgrim has also gone from “green” to “white.” In this case, the Performance Indicator for Unplanned Scrams per 7,000 Hours of Operation is affected. This indicator makes that transition if a plant experiences more than three unplanned shutdowns during that period of time.

This will lead to Pilgrim moving to the Degraded Cornerstone Column of the Action Matrix and result in still more inspections by the NRC. There will also be greater interaction between NRC senior managers and plant management to reach a better understanding of actions taken or planned to address the problems.

Two Performance Indicators related to an increased number of unplanned plant shutdowns over the past year crossed the green/white threshold and shows the company needs to focus greater attention on understanding why this trend is occurring. For the NRC’s part, we need to apply more resources to assess Entergy’s efforts to determine the root causes and to implement corrective actions. The NRC will also conduct its own independent evaluation of the root causes.

In March, the NRC will issue its Annual Assessment Letters for each plant. That letter for Pilgrim will reflect its current status and list inspections the agency will be carrying out in response to the indicator revisions. The letters will be available on the NRC web site.

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