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An Era Ends at the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Power Plant

Victor Dricks
Senior Public Affairs Officer
Region IV

Shortly before 1 p.m. Monday, operators in the control room of the Fort Calhoun nuclear power plant pushed a red button, initiating an automatic shutdown of the reactor. So ended commercial operations for the nation’s smallest nuclear power plant, located along the Missouri River, about 20 miles north of Omaha, Neb.

fcsWhen it happened, just as it had done when the plant began operations 43 years earlier, the NRC had staff onsite to ensure events unfolded as planned, systems functioned as designed and public health and safety were protected.

“The shutdown was done in a very professional manner,” said Geoff Miller, a branch chief in the NRC’s Division of Reactor Projects, who oversees the plant from the NRC’s Region IV office in Arlington, Texas. By his side was Lindsay Brandt, a reactor inspector from the Region IV office, who also monitored the shutdown.

Max Schneider, the Senior Resident Inspector at Fort Calhoun, was in the plant monitoring the shutdown and checking to ensure that all plant systems responded as designed. “Everything went very well. There were no issues with plant equipment,” said Schneider, who reported to the site in June 2014 after serving as a Resident Inspector at the Pilgrim nuclear power plant in Massachusetts.

“I’ve watched lot of plant shutdowns prior to maintenance and refueling outages,” Miller said.  “Usually there is a lot of tension and excitement in the air in anticipation of events to follow but there was not a lot of that Monday. Things were subdued.”

The Omaha Public Power District’s Board of Directors voted several months ago to shut down Fort Calhoun for commercial reasons.

Brandt will remain at the plant for another three or four weeks and then return to the NRC’s Region IV, where she will resume other duties. Schneider will remain onsite for six months to a year to monitor post shutdown activities and ensure a safe transition from commercial operations to decommissioning mode.

Inspectors from the NRC’s Region IV office will conduct periodic inspections to ensure that spent fuel is being stored safely and securely in the plant’s water-filled spent fuel pool and in dry cask canisters while it remains onsite. The NRC will also conduct periodic inspections of decommissioning activities.

Within 30 days, Omaha Public Power District officials are expected to submit a letter to the NRC certifying the permanent cessation of commercial operations and stating that all of the radioactive fuel has been permanently removed from the reactor vessel. When this happens, OPPD will have surrendered its authority to operate the reactor or reload fuel in it. They have two years in which to file a report with the NRC, describing their plans for decommissioning the plant.

When A Strike is a Possibility at a Plant

Diane Screnci
Senior Public Affairs Officer
Region I

Unionized workers at the James A. FitzPatrick nuclear power plant in Oswego, N.Y. recently voted to accept a new contract days before the current pact was to expire. The union representing operations, maintenance and radiation protection staff and Entergy, the company that owns the plant, reached a new four-year agreement.

While it was good news to learn an agreement had been reached, the agency had been tracking the status of the negotiations all along and was prepared to oversee that the unit would be operated safely during any job action.

We have procedures to make sure the owner is taking all of the appropriate steps to ensure continued safe operation in the event of a strike. For example, as a contract expiration is drawing near, the NRC Resident Inspectors assigned to the site and specialist inspectors from the Regional Office in King of Prussia, Pa., review the company’s contingency plans for staffing and other actions to prepare for a strike.

We don’t get involved in contract negotiations. We ensure that the requirements of the facility’s license and technical specifications are maintained at all times. At FitzPatrick and other plants facing an impending contract expiration, NRC inspectors ensure all emergency plan positions are properly staffed and that qualified licensed operators operate the plant. They also review the qualifications of replacement workers to verify they were properly trained to step in.

In the event of a strike at any plant, the NRC Resident Inspectors would be supplemented by additional NRC inspectors to provide round-the-clock NRC inspection coverage for the first 48 hours. We’d have continued additional site coverage for at least the first two weeks. If need be, we could continue enhanced inspector coverage for as long as necessary.

A Decommissioning of a Different Sort: NRC Resident Inspector Office at Vermont Yankee Shuts Down

Neil Sheehan
Public Affairs Officer
Region I

VYResidentOfficeClose 7-2015Something happened last week at the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant that might not merit headline news but is nonetheless worth highlighting: The lights were turned off for the last time in the NRC’s Resident Inspector office at the site.

As is well known by now, Vermont Yankee permanently ceased operations last December, bringing to a halt power production that had begun in November 1972. Since 1978, when the Resident Inspector program was launched, the NRC has had two such inspectors assigned to the site.

Among other things, these inspectors have kept close watch on day-to-day activities, responded to events, performed inspections and reviews and served as a vital conduit of information to the NRC. But commensurate with the reduced safety risk associated with a permanently shutdown reactor, the NRC has ended its daily inspector presence.

The NRC had kept a Resident Inspector at the Vernon, Vt., site to allow us to maintain on-site scrutiny during the early stages of the transition from an operating plant to one entering decommissioning. (Vermont Yankee will be using the SAFSTOR approach, which will involve placing the unit in storage for many years before embarking on major decontamination and dismantlement work.)

Although the Resident Inspector office has closed, NRC’s review activities have not come to a halt. Rather, the agency will continue to perform inspections at the plant on a periodic and targeted basis.

For instance, whenever there is major work taking place, such as the demolition of a nuclear-related building or the removal of spent fuel stored in the plant’s spent fuel pool into dry casks, an NRC inspector will be present. In addition, NRC will conduct inspections at the site at regular intervals to check on the plant’s safety status and any key developments until all spent fuel has been removed from the site and the plant’s NRC license is terminated.

Anyone seeking to contact the NRC regarding Vermont Yankee can continue to do so by calling the agency’s Region I Office via its toll-free phone number at 1-800-432-1156 and asking for the Division of Nuclear Materials Safety or by e-mail at OPA1@NRC.GOV .

Vermont Yankee is not unique with respect to this change involving the Resident Inspectors assigned to the plant. Three other plants that have shut down in recent years have also seen this changeover.

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