A new inspection report found two meteorological towers at the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth used to detect continuous weather readings were not working properly several times over the past three years.
By Christine Legere, Cape Cod Times
Oct. 1, 2015
PLYMOUTH — If a radiation leak had occurred at the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station, on eight occasions over the last three years, operators would have been forced to rely on the National Weather Service in Taunton to provide the meteorological information needed to tell them which regions were in danger of contamination.
A routine check at the plant done in August turned up four negative findings. While all four were considered of low safety significance, one of the more serious ones was related to plant security — something the Nuclear Regulatory Commission cannot publicly discuss — and the other was related to the plant’s meteorological towers. Entergy, Pilgrim’s owner-operator, was notified of the inspection results Thursday.
Pilgrim, which has already been downgraded to among the three worst performing reactors in the country, has two towers on the property: a 220-foot main tower and a 160-foot backup. Their purpose is to provide continuous readings on wind speed and direction, and air temperature. In December 2011, Entergy canceled preventative maintenance on the backup tower and it became nonfunctional, according to the NRC’s letter to Pilgrim’s owner-operator dated Thursday.
“As a result, on eight occasions between March 12, 2012 and Aug. 15, 2015, when the 220-foot primary meteorological tower was non-functional for various reasons, Pilgrim did not have instrumentation available on either tower for continuous readings,” the letter said.
NRC spokeswoman Diane Screnci said operators would have been forced to rely on the National Weather Service for data, should a radiological emergency have occurred.
In its finding, the NRC noted the lack of the backup tower resulted in a lack of assurance that Entergy could “protect the health and safety of the public in the event of a radiological emergency.” [emphasis added]
This isn’t the first time Entergy has been cited for the broken backup tower. The NRC had first noted the tower’s status following a routine inspection in late 2013.
At the time, federal officials said the finding was rated as low in safety significance because nothing bad had happened as a result.
Pilgrim spokeswoman Lauren Burm on Thursday acknowledged the company’s lack of action. “The NRC accurately determined that the station response to restoration of back-up meteorological monitoring was not timely,” Burm wrote in an email. “Since the issuance of the finding, the completion of the new MET Tower is well underway. “In accordance with our emergency procedures, we utilized the National Weather Service as backup.”
Scenci said the August inspection was routine, something the NRC does every 18 months.
The NRC spokeswoman noted the results of that inspection were significant because they reinforced the NRC’s decision to place Pilgrim in the lowest performance category in which the agency allows plants to continue to operate. The only other plants in the category, which is for reactors with frequent violations of federal standards, are Entergy’s two reactors at its Arkansas location.
While Burm is not allowed to elaborate on the security infraction found in August, she did make a comment:
“For the identified security related issues, it was noted that we did not respond in a timely manner to an equipment performance issue of very low safety significance,” Burm wrote. “The NRC did conclude, however, that actions were in place to ensure the station remained secure.”
Another criticism in the report was the tendency of Pilgrim operators to close corrective action reports prior to specified corrective actions being completed.
Burm said Entergy was taking the inspectors’ findings very seriously. “Pilgrim has modified our already comprehensive and significant site-wide program to address the gaps in our Corrective Action Program that are noted in this latest report,” she wrote. “Safety and quality performance are the first and foremost goals for each employee every day.”
Entergy is currently calculating the cost of the upgrades and inspections that will be required for the Pilgrim plant to move up from its position at the bottom of the performance list. Burm recently said that if the corporation finds the cost of making the improvements exceeds the value of the plant, it may consider permanently shutting Pilgrim down.
Entergy has 30 days to respond to the NRC’s latest inspection report.
— Follow Christine Legere on Twitter: @ClegereCCT.