NRC email: Pilgrim plant ‘overwhelmed’

A team of 20 federal inspectors issued a preliminary report on their investigation into practices at the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth and found “the plant seems overwhelmed just trying to run the station.”

By Christine Legere, Cape Cod Times, Dec 6, 2016

PLYMOUTH — In an in-house email sent Monday to Nuclear Regulatory Commission officials, the leader of a federal inspection team currently scouring equipment, procedures and staff performance at Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station says inspectors are struggling to interpret just what they are seeing at the troubled plant.

While employees show a lot of positive energy, “it appears many staff across the site may not have the standards to know what ‘good’ actually is,” wrote Donald Jackson, chief of operations at the NRC’s Northeast region and team leader. “The plant seems overwhelmed just trying to run the station.”

The email containing the status report was mistakenly sent to Diane Turco, co-founder of the activist group Cape Downwinders, who forwarded the document to the Times.

On Jackson’s list of findings to date are failure of plant workers to follow established industry procedures, broken equipment that never gets properly fixed, lack of required expertise among plant experts, failure of some staff to understand their roles and responsibilities, and a team of employees who appear to be struggling with keeping the nuclear plant running.

Other comments from Jackson include:

– While cooperative, plant operators are “very disjointed in their ability to populate meetings and answer questions. Staffing problems seem to impact how fast the licensee can respond.”

– “The engineering group appears unprepared to answer all of the questions being posed by the team.” That fact, Jackson said, leads him to question their level of knowledge.

– “The corrective actions in the recovery plan seem to have been hastily developed and implemented, and some have been circumvented as they were deemed too hard to complete. We are observing current indications of a safety culture problem that a bunch of talking probably won’t fix.”

– Recurring problems with the emergency diesel generators at the plant highlight “poor engineering expertise, no communication with the shift manager and poor corrective action.”

Jackson states the inspection team is “struggling to figure out what all of this means.”

Turco said the information “confirms what we have known all along. Pilgrim is a recipe for catastrophe.”

“The email preliminary report proves the NRC goal to ‘arrest declining performance’ is not happening at all,” continued Turco. “Mr. Jackson deserves credit for his candor on the documented dangers the continued operation of Pilgrim presents. Now he needs to lead the way to revoke the operating license.”

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