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NRC Inspectors: Free to Inspect

Diane Screnci
Senior Public Affairs Officer
Region I

We often talk about having NRC Resident Inspectors at each commercial nuclear plant acting as the eyes and ears of the agency on site. It’s important to understand how they go about their business.

Paul Cataldo

Paul Cataldo

On a daily basis, resident inspectors are attending meetings, walking down equipment, monitoring major work activities, reviewing paperwork, and talking to control room operators and plant workers. When an event occurs at a plant, the resident inspectors are in the control room, watching how operators and the plant respond. They provide first-hand knowledge of what’s going on at a plant to regional management on an on-going basis. Inspectors often work business hours, but they’re required to work evenings, weekends and overnight hours, too.

NRC inspectors, including region-based specialists, have “unfettered access,” so they can go anywhere and watch any activity they choose. NRC regulations specify that NRC inspectors must have immediate unfettered access, although inspectors must comply with applicable access control measures for security, radiological protection and personal safety. That means if an inspector wants to enter a radiologically controlled area, he or she is allowed to, but first must follow the radiation protection requirements for the area.

“My job is to ensure the company is in compliance with our regulations and their operating license, which provides reasonable assurance that the plant is safe. One approach I use is the “trust but verify” method,” says Paul Cataldo, the NRC Senior Resident Inspector at Seabook Station in New Hampshire. “In essence, having access to any document, equipment or personnel on-site, without asking permission or the licensee having prior knowledge of a request, gives us confidence regarding the integrity of the information we use during our inspections.”

Plant workers are also prohibited from announcing that an NRC inspector is at the plant or in a particular area. It’s a violation of NRC requirements and over the years we have cited plants when workers tipped off their co-workers that inspectors were on-site.

We rely on our ability to perform announced and unannounced inspections to independently evaluate plant performance. Without unfettered access, our ability to carry out our mission could be impacted.

Projected End Date for Indian Point Plant Comes into Clearer Focus

Neil Sheehan
Public Affairs Officer
Region I

April 30th will mark a decade since Entergy submitted a license renewal application to the NRC for the Indian Point nuclear power plant. During the intervening years, thorough NRC staff reviews and a complex hearing on the proposal by the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, the quasi-judicial arm of the NRC, have moved steadily forward.

indianpointBut then came an announcement on Jan. 9 by Entergy, the plant’s owner, and New York state. Under an agreement reached between the two parties, Indian Point Unit 2 would permanently shut down by April 30, 2020, and Indian Point Unit 3 by April 30, 2021. (Indian Point Unit 1 ceased operations in 1974).

This represents an earlier retirement of the reactors than proposed in the company’s license renewal application, which sought an extension of Unit 2’s operating license to April 2033 and Unit 3’s to April 2035.

Entergy cited the low cost of natural gas and rising operating costs as primary factors in its decision. The company said it would instead pursue a license renewal for Unit 2 to 2024 and for Unit 3 to 2025 to allow operation until then in the event the plant’s power output is still needed.

Company officials offered assurances that there would be continued adherence to safety requirements for the remainder of the plant’s operational life. NRC inspectors will be on hand to independently verify that all safety commitments are being met.

The NRC has three full-time Resident Inspectors assigned to Indian Point. We also send specialist inspectors to the facility to assess such areas as security, radiation safety and reactor operator training.

Agency staff will also have to complete their license renewal reviews and the hearing process will have to be brought to a conclusion. With respect to the latter, a motion to withdraw the remaining contentions in the hearing process is expected today.

It will be essential for Indian Point employees to maintain a strong focus on safety no matter the plant’s eventual end date. It will be incumbent upon the NRC to ensure that is occurring.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NRC Keeps an Eye on Gulf Coast Flooding

Victor Dricks
Senior Public Affairs Officer
Region IV

Torrential rains have been battering the Gulf Coast since Friday, but have not adversely affected any of the nuclear power plants in Louisiana, Mississippi, or Arkansas.

louisiana map_sealThough skies have now cleared over Baton Rouge, the area has been especially hard hit by flooding. But this has had no significant impact on the River Bend nuclear power plant, about 25 miles northwest of the city, or the designated routes that would be used to evacuate the public in the event of a nuclear emergency.

The Waterford 3 nuclear plant, located in Killona (about 25 miles west of New Orleans), has been similarly unaffected. “We’ve had some heavy rain here over the weekend but there has not been any real impact on the plant,” said NRC Resident Inspector Chris Speer.

Flooding is one of the many natural hazards that nuclear power plants must be prepared for. Every nuclear power plant must demonstrate the ability to withstand extreme flooding and shut down safely if necessary. Most nuclear power plants have emergency diesel generators that can supply backup power for key safety systems if off-site power is lost.

All plants have robust designs with redundancy in key components that are protected from natural events, including flooding. These requirements were in place before the Fukushima accident in Japan in 2011, and have been strengthened since.

As of Tuesday, Arkansas Nuclear One, in Russellville, has gotten about five inches of rain since Friday, NRC Resident Inspector Margaret Tobin said. “It’s a little muddy at the site, but that’s about it.”

At Grand Gulf plant in Mississippi, 20 miles southwest of Vicksburg, only light rain has been reported. “We actually had very little rain at the site, compared to what was expected,” said Matt Young, the NRC’s Senior Resident at the plant.

The NRC is closely following events and getting periodic updates from the National Weather Service on conditions that might affect any of the Gulf Coast nuclear plants. Additionally, the resident inspectors are monitoring local weather conditions to remain aware of conditions that could affect continued safe operations of the plants.

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.

 

 

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