Petition mirrors request by engineers that NRC address issue at all U.S. reactors.
By Christine Legere
Cape Cod Times, Mar. 8, 2016
PLYMOUTH — Area citizens groups submitted a petition to federal regulators Monday, calling on them to order Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station to permanently fix a flaw in the electrical monitoring system that is present in most of the country’s nuclear fleet or to order the Entergy-owned plant immediately shut down.
Seven engineers who work for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission had submitted a petition to their employer late last month, asking that it take the same “fix it or shut it down” stand with all 99 reactors in the U.S.
The local activists echoed those sentiments.
The petition to compel a fix at Pilgrim was written by Duxbury activist Mary Lampert, founder and president of Pilgrim Watch. It was co-signed by leaders of the Cape Downwinders, Cape Downwinders Cooperative, Jones River Watershed Association and Duxbury Nuclear Advisory Committee.
“Outside Pilgrim’s gate a sign reads, ‘Safety First.’ Really?” Lampert wrote in an email to the Times. “Entergy spokesman Patrick O’Brien told the Cape Cod Times that ‘given that the station will permanently shut down not later than mid-2019, additional upgrades are not planned.’ Safety First means keeping their wallets safe.”
The petition says that an undetected short in one of the three electrical cables feeding outside power to the nuclear reactor could burn out motors that power safety systems used to cool the reactor when offsite electricity is lost. “NRC engineers found the glitch so serious that they asked the NRC to order immediate corrective action or close the reactors,” the petition says.
NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan repeated comments he previously made regarding the petition from the engineers. “Plant owners have put in place interim corrective actions and we’ll be following up to make sure they take permanent action,” he said.
The local petition asks why the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has taken so long to address the design flaw, when it has known about it for four years.
“Despite the fact that you know of the defect, and know what is likely to happen if an open-phase event should occur, you have done little to nothing to effectively deal with it,” the petition says.
The NRC discovered the design flaw in 2012 and required all plants to report how they were addressing the shared problem. Interim fixes were put in place.
“The NRC has not required reactors to put in new systems to fix the design flaw,” Lampert said in an email. “Instead, they have given reactors until the end of 2018.”
In a 2013 letter, Entergy Corp. said Pilgrim’s relay systems were not designed to detect open single-phase events, but the existing protective circuitry would likely prevent an imbalance in voltage that could burn out backup system motors.
O’Brien said via an email last week that “because of the way Pilgrim receives power, the station is unlikely to be affected by these potential concerns.” He noted Pilgrim has an automated detection system that would mitigate the concern.
As an additional safeguard, Pilgrim employees were required to twice daily check the switch yard, where offsite and onsite power connect.
Cape Downwinder William Maurer said he had little faith in employee checks at Pilgrim, based on recent news that more than 200 required fire watch checks over a two-year span had been logged as completed when they were never done.
“It’s also reasonable to assume that no one is going to be in the switch yard checking when nor’easters, blizzards, thunderstorms, hurricanes, etc., are raging and when wires are most likely to become detached,” Maurer wrote in an email.
The petition will now be considered by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.