By CHRISTINE LEGERE
February 05, 2014
PLYMOUTH — Federal regulators have placed Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station among the nation’s nine worst performers based on its recent number of unplanned shutdowns, a move that will mean much closer scrutiny by federal inspection teams in the coming months.
NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan said Pilgrim had four unplanned shutdowns in 7,000 operating hours. (There are about 8,200 operating hours in a year.)
No more than three are allowed within the 7,000-hour period.
The downgrade marks the second for the 42-year-old plant in the last six months. In early November, the plant received the first downgrade for unplanned shutdowns with complications.
“Two performance indicators related to an increased number of unplanned shutdowns over the past year … shows the company needs to focus greater attention on understanding why this trend is occurring,” said Neil Sheehan, spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, in a statement. “For the NRC’s part, we need to apply more resources to assess (plant owner-operator) Entergy’s effort to determine root causes and to implement corrective actions.”
David Lochbaum, director of the Nuclear Safety Project for the Union of Concerned Scientists, said he’d recorded nine shutdowns at Pilgrim in the first nine months of 2013,
The plant not only led the nation for shutdowns, it had its worst year in two decades, according to Lochbaum.
The Union of Concerned Scientists’ figures differ from the NRC’s because the organization includes shutdowns to fix broken parts, such as leaking pumps or waterlines. NRC classifies those, in some cases, as “planned” shutdowns.
“One of the things the NRC will be trying to answer is, are the events coincidence, bad luck or inadequate budget or inadequate training,” Lochbaum said.
“A lot of NRC cavalry is going to be showing up,” said Lochbaum. “It may make the public feel better knowing there will be a lot of pressure to get to the bottom of this.”
The need for the increased scrutiny at the Plymouth plant concerns state Rep. Daniel Wolf, D-Harwich.
“What does it mean that we have, in our backyard, what regulators have deemed as less safe than other plants,” Wolf said. “This just continues to ratchet up. The question is, why does the Nuclear Regulatory Commission allow that plant to stay open?”
Nuclear plant watchdog Diane Turco, a founder of the Cape Downwinders, expressed skepticism over benefits of increased scrutiny by federal regulators and turned to sarcasm in an email to the Times.
“NRC planned intervention for more oversight means more overlooking the real public safety concerns to keep Entergy Nuclear in business,” she wrote.
Joyce McMahon, spokeswoman for Entergy, stressed two of the four shutdowns that led to the poor performance rating from the NRC “were the result of electric transmission line problems external to Pilgrim.”
“We are working closely with the owners of the transmission system to identify ways to improve electrical grid reliability,” McMahon said in an email. “The shutdowns had no impact on the health and safety of the public or our employees.”
“Operating Pilgrim at the highest levels of safety and reliability is our top priority,” McMahon’s email continued. “We have conducted rigorous reviews of the plant shutdowns to identify common causes and required improvements. Our action plan is broad-based and addresses plant equipment, processes and organizational improvement initiatives.”